Latest small cell forecasts point to an increase in use cases and diversification of deployers

In our Market Status Report 2020, the latest forecasts point to a trend towards increasingly varied use cases supported by small cells, and also diversification in the industry as new deployers start to play a bigger role.

Each year SCF publishes a Market Status, which is built around a detailed forecast of deployment of small cell networks in a range of scenarios, plus in-depth analysis of the factors driving or holding back those roll-outs. The core data source is a survey of about 100 global operators about their plans for the next six years.

This year, there were some strong new trends coming from the data:

1. Growth in small cell use cases

Small cells now come in a huge variety of form factors, from tiny wall mounted access points serving enterprise venues and private industrial networks, to mini-macro cells which can serve a dense urban hotzone. The use cases they support are therefore also growing increasingly varied, as cellular connectivity becomes critical not just for mobile broadband, but a whole range of business functions and services, driven by trends such as Industry 4.0 and the Industrial IoT.
Many of the emerging applications for enterprise and industrial 4G or 5G are reliant on excellent ubiquitous coverage, including deep inside buildings, or in remote areas or urban canyons. This can only really be achieved with small cells.

Deployments and upgrades of enterprise and industrial small cells by vertical market

2. Diversification of deployers

With the growth in uses cases, we are also seeing diversity in the organizations deploying and monetizing small cells, with neutral hosts, private network operators and enterprise integrators joining conventional mobile network operators (MNOs). One of the most notable forecasts in the report is ‘by 2026, as many as 30% of the installed base of outdoor small cell networks, and 71% of indoor enterprise systems, are likely to be operated by new entrants to the cellular segment.”

Just as cellular networks need to support a widening variety of connectivity requirements and applications, so the classic MNO model will not enable all those profitably. In some cases, the sharing of infrastructure via neutral host platforms can transform the profit case for a roll-out, as well as supporting many service providers – with future evolution to a more dynamic, on-demand access to connectivity, following the same pattern as the cloud industry.

All of this is good news for the industry. Diversity breeds innovation and means there can be a small cell platform and business case for each different requirement. But it comes with the risk of fragmentation and chaos. Preventing this, by distilling common industry requirements into a work program which supports open, unified platforms, is the heart of SCF’s mission. Our work program for 2020-2021 reflects the themes and requirements outlined in our Market Status report. You can read the full Market Status Report, with detailed forecasts here, or to find out about the SCF work program here.