As data consumption soars and technical barriers fall, mobile operators are turning to small cells to strategically boost the capacity and coverage of saturated macro networks.
According to Infonetics, Asia Pacific is the place to watch. The highest macro cell network density, with more than 100,000 macro sites, is found in China, Japan and South Korea. In Tokyo, the average inter-site distance is typically 100 metres or, in the busiest areas, 20 metres. In the US it is typically over 1 kilometre.
With 39 percent of the Long Term Evolution (LTE) connections globally, Asia-Pacific is a major LTE market.
IDC projects that in 2014, APAC will represent about 26 percent of worldwide LTE small cells shipments, increasing to around 60 percent by 2018.
China Mobile, Mainland China's leading mobile provider, is building what could well be the world's largest mobile network out of macro and small cells. It launched its 4G TD-LTE network in January 2014. By December, China Mobile expects to have 350,000 LTE TDD macro base stations in service and 22 million LTE subscribers by the end of 2015. To boost capacity and coverage, China Mobile is preparing to deploy a layer of small cells to complement the macro layer. Jointly developed with Alcatel-Lucent, the metro cells will be deployed in busy or hard-to-reach urban locations where it is too difficult or costly to deploy a macro cell.
Mobile users now have high expectations for faster speeds and a better experience in Japan and South Korea as well as other mature markets such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Operators are switching from coverage-driven build outs and focusing on building capacity to meet these expectations and the high traffic volumes that go with it.
Small cells also have an important role to play in connecting the unconnected. Maxis Malaysia has deployed small cells with satellite backhaul in remote jungle locations where macro cells are too expensive to deploy, thereby successfully bringing the world closer to a previously isolated community.
By the end of this decade, 20 billion smart devices will be connected to the network. Many of them will be in Asia Pacific.
The growing demand for data is not a passing fad. Driven by the increasing popularity of smart devices, consumers have developed big appetites for rich video content and cloud-based services. One smartphone generates as much traffic as 20 feature phones, while a tablet generates 100 times as much traffic.
By 2015, the number of mobile broadband connections is expected to triple. Smartphone connections are projected to increase five times over today's level. The data generated by all types of wireless devices will continue to rise and smartphone data will increase up to 18 times over today's levels.
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