Small cells: to realise the benefits of 5G, the mobile value chain must alter its approach to densification

Small cells: to realise the benefits of 5G, the mobile value chain must alter its approach to densification

  • February 2017 •
  • 31 pages •
  • Report ID: 4716207
"Dense networks of small cells will be an essential element of the case for 4.5G and 5G, but they will not be deployable at scale unless the entire mobile value chain alters its approach."

This report analyses the role that small cells will play in operators’ programmes to densify their networks during the migration to 5G. We argue that unless mobile network operators (MNOs) and regulators radically alter the way they treat small cells, the potential of a dense network with strong services at the edge will be wasted.

Operators, regulators, planning authorities, towercos and vendors must stop treating small cells as miniature macrocells, and instead adopt some of the processes of the public Wi-Fi industry, such as open interfaces, neutral host and simplified equipment, to achieve cost-effective densification.

If they do not adopt these processes, much of the potential of densification and multi-access edge computing (MEC) will be lost. This will affect MNOs most because challengers such as cablecos and web providers have other tools to use, including MuLTEfire, enhanced Wi-Fi and, in the US, the new shared 3.5 GHz band. These tools will help MNOs to avoid many of the complexities that are holding back densification.

This report is based on several sources, including:
- a survey of 78 MNOs worldwide about plans, drivers and barriers to densification
- interviews with MNOs, towercos and small-cell vendors
- a survey of 24 public Wi-Fi network deployers or neutral hosts.

- How can vendors kick-start densification with simplified equipment, deployment processes and with open APIs?
- What is the importance of densification to mobile network operators’ (MNOs’) 5G strategies, and what are the risks of failure?
- What challenges do MNOs face from alternative ecosystems such as public Wi-Fi, unlicensed LTE and cable wireless?
- What can regulators and standards bodies do to progress the market?
- How can towercos and other infrastructure owners, including SCaaS, participate in small cells and drive momentum?

Who Should Read this Report
- CTOs, CIOs and business development executives in vendors providing small-cell solutions to MNOs or other operators. These include pure-play small-cell providers, network equipment providers (NEPs) and Wi-Fi access-point vendors.
- Decision-makers at towercos, city planning authorities and neutral-host providers.
- CTOs and network strategists in MNOs and public Wi-Fi network providers.

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