Over 100,000 people are now taking their sore feet and heads home from Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress for another year – but the huge show does far more than provide a five-day showcase for the latest gizmos. It is the main stage on which key mobile industry stakeholders set out their manifestoes for the years ahead, and the Small Cell Forum was no exception.
Its key themes this year chimed in well with those of the whole event. There was strong response to the Forum’s ‘smart enterprise’ work. All over the Fira conference centre, it was clear that enterprise and vertical customers will be the main drivers of growth and new use cases in the years ahead.
Many of the key enablers of the mobile enterprise are only possible with small cells – full indoor coverage for voice and data, in-vehicle hotspots, the dense zones which will support ultra-reliable Internet of Things applications.
The Forum contributed to these discussions with the unveiling of our Smart Enterprise Release, a comprehensive set of documents to support best practice in enterprise small cells, and it attracted high levels of attention with its latest research studies. A survey carried out by Nemertes Research found that 60 per cent of enterprises surveyed expect to have started small cell deployment by the end of next year, while the latest market forecasts from Mobile Experts pointed to a 270% growth in shipments in this sector during 2016. By 2020, enterprise small cells will deliver $4 billion, in a total market worth $6.7 billion and amounting to 8 million units.
Other important themes of MWC 2016 included the evolution towards 5G, via various routes which are being mapped out right now, including HetNet architectures. Again, the Forum was reflecting the broader concerns of the interest, with chairman Alan Law setting out the group’s vision of how the HetNet will develop over the coming few years. As well as networks being densified, operators will also be making use of more diverse spectrum bands, including unlicensed. Reflecting the high interest in LTE variants for unlicensed spectrum – and the Forum’s increasing involvement in work on licence-exempt solutions – Law took part in a main conference panel session called ‘Network Diversity: LTE-U and Beyond’.
And beyond the Forum’s buzzing Small Cell Zone in Hall 7, many vendors and operators had their own announcements. Small cells platforms and services had featured in the pre-show launches of the big vendors, including Nokia and Ericsson, and there were many more during the event itself.
Thinking back to the early days of small cells in Barcelona, the big change was in the diversity of the news. There was an in-car ‘Vehicular CrowdCell’ concept being demonstrated on the Vodafone stand by BMW; a self-backhauling access point based on LTE Relay from Airspan; and an Access Control Gateway for virtualised indoor networks from ip.access … and many, many more. In other words, the small cell sector is keeping up with important developments in the broader mobile architecture, from in-vehicle connectivity, to new LTE standards, to virtualisation and software-defined networking.
Just as importantly, the operators were talking up major deployment plans. China Mobile said data traffic in the Beijing Workers’ Stadium had increased sixfold to 660 gigabytes after implementing Huawei LampSite; Reliance Jio has embarked on one of the world’s largest indoor deployments to augment its new LTE network and support enterprises in India; and Swisscom is even embedding small cells in manhole covers for invisible urban capacity.
Forum CEO Sue Monahan summed up a landmark MWC for the small cell sector, saying: “Our mission is to close the gap and help drive and accelerate adoption. I’m happy to report that we have now crossed the chasm.”