Defining the small cell market based on the type of application rather than technology provides the best segmentation for infrastructure vendors, according to analyst firm Ovum.
Ovum warns that current assessments by vendors ignore key factors, such as deployments using real-estate assets mobile operators aren't accustomed to and whether the market can support the many vendors pursuing small cell.
"The majority of interest in the small cell market today is surrounding the capacity gains of small cells being deployed in a heterogeneous network (HetNet)," said Daryl Schoolar, principal analyst in Ovum's Network Infrastructure Telecoms team.
"The reasons for this are very clear: as mobile traffic continues to grow, the economics of deploying more macrocells to meet this traffic growth do not add up long term. Small cells promise to provide much-needed capacity injections at a lower cost," added Schoolar.
Ovum is proposing network sharing for mobile operators who are looking to deploy small cells. "Not only will it be difficult for multiple operators to deploy 100+ small cells in a given city; governments could even legislate sharing to avoid excessive cluttering," explained Schoolar.
But using multiple vendors could make integrating metro cells into the macro network difficult, especially if the macrocell vendor has no reason to cooperate. "While Alcatel-Lucent, among several vendors, may see small cells as a way to gain ground in markets where it isn't the macro vendor, it is far from certain that mobile operators are interested in this type of arrangement," said Schoolar.
Meanwhile, Ovum insists that wi-fi should be considered a small cell as infrastructure vendors are starting to incorporate wi-fi support into their overall HetNet strategies. This interest will see carrier wi-fi gear shipments grow by 84 percent in 2012 and continue double-digit growth to 2017, forecasts Ovum.
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