Service providers are planning to deploy millions of small cells to increase network capacity at they face a more than 20-fold increase in data demand over the next five years, according to a study conducted by Rethink Technology Research for Amdocs,
Small cells are very compact, low power, short-range cellular base stations, unlike today’s traditional macrocells which have a range of tens of kilometers.
Small cells comprise both femtocells ‒ installed in the home or small business, and connected to the service provider’s network via broadband ‒ and metrocells, which are higher capacity nodes, with a range of a few hundred meters and typically used inside or outside large buildings, shopping malls, stations and sporting arenas.
This move to more small cells is critical to service providers’ ability to handle increases in 3G demand and to deliver on 4G promises, both of which will vastly increase the burden on planning and logistic departments.
The survey found that 59 percent of service providers expect to deploy at least 10 times more small cells by 2017 than in 2011, yet almost half of network planners (47 percent) say a lack of network planning resources is the biggest challenge facing them today, leading to rollout delays.
Other key survey findings:
- Huge increase in mobile data capacity needed: 94 percent of service providers are planning for 20-fold growth or more by 2017. Of these, 24 percent foresee 50-fold growth.
- New technologies such as 4G and LTE are only part of the solution: All service providers said that the latest 4G and LTE technologies would deliver only part of the efficiencies required. To optimize network performance, they will need sophisticated new network planning and management tools in addition to technologies that are part of the LTE specification, such as Self-Organizing Networks.
- Network investment continues to grow: 50 percent of service providers expect to increase their capital expenditure by 10-20 percent between 2012 and 2017 and 23 percent plan to increase it by even more. None expect to reduce their capital spending.
- Wi-Fi offloading expected to help ease data burden: 88 percent of service providers expect to offer Wi-Fi as part of their mobile services by 2016, with 22 percent anticipating they will have Wi-Fi integrated into at least half of their cell sites by the end of 2017, further reducing the data burden on 3G and LTE.
“Service providers are facing a data storm, forecasting more than a 20-fold data demand increase over the next five years, but 4G is not going to solve this problem on its own as the majority of devices will remain on 3G,” said Caroline Gabriel, research director at Rethink Technology Research.
Small cells a solution?
“The solution is small cells, which are perfect for boosting capacity and coverage in fixed locations, but the need to add millions of new cells has created a network planning bottleneck and service providers need to find smarter planning tools to speed the process.”
“With service provider budgets under increasing pressure, the huge number of small cell deployments represents a significant investment,” saidRebecca Prudhomme, Amdocs vice president of product and solutions marketing. “They will need to rely on sophisticated and flexible network planning approaches to maximize efficiency and automation in order to remain competitive.”
The survey covered a global sample of over 65 mobile and converged Tier 1 and Tier 2 service providers and was conducted between April-May 2012, based on an email questionnaire followed up by telephone interviews.
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