The first quarter of 2017 has been a momentous one for the small cell industry. Operators’ need to densify their networks is becoming urgent in many markets, and the momentum behind enterprise and city deployments continues to grow. So it was no surprise than many developments were heavily focused on practical issues of rolling out small cells at huge scale.
This was an important theme at Mobile World Congress, driving current 4G network expansion as well as 5G roadmaps. The Forum chose the occasion to unveil Release 8, the most detailed blueprint ever to help operators streamline the deployment of small cells at scale, reducing time and cost. Many of our members showcased innovative solutions, and there was particular buzz around new spectrum options which will drive LTE small cells, including 5 GHz and the US’s CBRS (3.5 GHz) band.
The US has been the engine of small cell innovation in recent months, although Asia-Pacific remains the largest regional deployer, as a new survey from IHS indicated. Asian roll-outs boosted global shipments by 43% in 2016.
However, many of the initiatives to simplify deployment processes – vital to large-scale projects – are originating in the US and will doubtless be emulated elsewhere. The FCC has confirmed simplified rules for installing cells in cities, while several US-based organizations are also driving change forward, including the CCA and 5G Americas. The latter has an important partnership with SCF, which has resulted in two major white papers addressing practical build-out issues for densification.
Diversity of deployment options, but streamlined by standard frameworks and processes, will be key. A survey by the TIA warned operators that they need broader partnerships to simplify their projects, but they also need to be able to use all kinds of sites. At the extreme, Nokia and Verizon have been trialling small cells installed by, or even mounted on, drones.
The quarter ended with SCF’s first plenary meeting of the year, in sunny Cannes in the south of France. The sessions were extremely well-attended, particularly those focused on the Enterprise program, which has already released a set of guidelines and documents specifically tailored to the hospitality sector. The meeting put more flesh on the busy work program for 2017, and we can expect to see significant progress updates by the next major Forum event, SCWS in London on May 22-25. The winners of the Small Cell Forum Awards will also be announced at the event as part of our tenth anniversary celebrations. Watch this space for more information.
We look forward to seeing you there!