Carriers Lag on Small Cell Technology


Network providers secured a big win for their bottom line at the expense of everyone else who uses the internet this week, thanks to the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) vote in favor of ending net neutrality. These same network providers say that ending net neutrality will provide a better network experience during high traffic times. So, now that enterprise can pay to prioritize itself ahead of everyone else in yet another area are network providers ready? A new white paper from Vertix Consulting suggests maybe not.

The paper highlights the emergence of small cell technology. Small cells can be deployed to help strengthen networks and provide better capacity to network users by connecting fewer people to the same node and offering more nodes instead of trying to fit everyone on to one large node. For network providers small cell technology can offer way to improve access and capacity in dense areas (think midtown Manhattan) but they also require a new way of thinking about network engineering.

Global mobile data consumption grew 81% in 2013 and is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 61% over the next five years. Adding more towers to meet this demand isn’t going to work in urban centers or even in some heavily populated suburban areas where towers are already plentiful. The same is true for deploying more radios and macro cells which are as expensive as towers in many cases and don’t fit the needs of every situation.

The paper notes that small cell technology can be more economical and customizable for geographies or situations that require a strong network. However, historically network management in carriers has been a specialized task that isn’t present in these organizations at scale. For small cell technology to be used effectively more parts of the network and organization will have to learn to deploy and understand network technology.

“Carriers will need to launch focused initiatives to make the system, tool, process, and organizational changes required to achieve the improved price points and shorter timeframes associated with small cell deployments. Asking the existing organizations to absorb the deployment and management of small cells can quickly erode the expected benefits and may result in fragmented approaches across carrier regions. This organizational maturation is a critical activity in moving from the technology phase (i.e., trials and analysis) to commercial deployment at scale,” paper authors write. This is a tall order for a group of service providers that seems to find it difficult to deploy any capex for broadband network expansion outside of major metropolitan areas.

As an answer, Vertix notes that several carrier models are likely to emerge including backhaul provider managed services, OEM managed services, independent managed services and other hybrid models. In April, CivSource reported on a new radio released by Aviat Networks which boasts the smallest and lightest construction for radios in its cohort. Aviat is currently working with the Fixed Wireless Coalition to bring more small radio and small cell technologies to market, however leaving the work to hardware providers like Aviat can create its own set of problems.

“The small cell deployment wave is fast approaching and carriers must invest the time and resources now to achieve the desired benefits. Neglecting the required organizational, process, tool, and system changes will result in a delayed ramp of small cell deployments and could cause a long-term impact to the underlying business case (e.g., cost precedents set for real estate and backhaul, burdened by complex managed services relationships). Focused efforts on organizational evolution, process design, vendor sourcing, and project management will allow carriers to accelerate deployments and avoid costly mistakes,” advises the paper. Watch this space.