MWC: a great forum to drive home the need for densification in Europe

Ahead of Mobile World Congress next week, our Chair David Orloff of AT&T reflects on what our latest market status report means for the industry.

It’s hard to believe that Mobile World Congress has rolled round again, but I’m looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible in Barcelona. It is always a great event for exchanging views and getting your comments on SCF’s work agenda for the year. It’s also the best place to tap into the key trends in our sector, and gain a sense of what the whole mobile industry is thinking.

We have a new-look stand in Hall 7 (Stand L65) this year and hope you’ll like the new format and find it as conducive as ever to networking with all those who are interested in densification. If you would like to meet up to talk to me or our CEO Sue Monahan about how SCF can help amplify and extend the reach of your business, do get in touch. Of course, 5G will be unavoidable this year, and for the first time, we have extended our Market Status Update to include specific forecasts for 5G small cells. This is timely, as our forecasts see 5G and 4G/5G small cell deployments overtaking 4G by 2024. That will result in an installed base of 5G or multimode small cells that will reach 13.1m by 2025, about one-third of the total.

There will still be significant growth in LTE deployments in the near term, of course, and we are pleased to see particularly healthy upticks in urban small cells, which we expect to increase at an annual growth rate of 61% between 2016 and 2025. That trend is being helped by some regulatory changes in various parts of the world, to make roll-out of urban cells simpler and cheaper by removing many complex approval processes.

However, the early improvements need to continue to be extended by regulators if our predictions are to come true. The risk that deployment processes will improve too slowly is especially high in Europe and at SCF, we urge EU, national and city authorities to accelerate progress on reforming the rules on site and equipment approval.

If they do not, it will be tough for densification to become a reality and roll-outs will remain fragmented and inefficient. That, in turn, will put Europe in a weak position to support emerging business models which require density and ubiquitous coverage, especially in the Internet of Things, and that could have a knock-on effect on overall competitiveness.

We believe MWC, with its European location, will be the perfect place to voice these concerns and emphasize the significance of the issue for the region’s mobile economy. Many major European MNOs are focused on 5G mobile broadband and we applaud this. However, the less dense small cell rollout this implies has implications for other 5G applications, notably IoT, which require ubiquitous coverage and without which European competitiveness could suffer. SCF is working with European regulators to help remove deployment barriers, while at the same time encouraging the development of new business models.

I’m looking forward to discussing many of these issues with you in Barcelona, and to telling you about the exciting program SCF has in place after MWC, including our SCF EU Densification Summit and Plenary, to be held in Sophia Antipolis, South of France on 24-26 April. With the market poised both for at-scale densification, and for commercial 5G, it will be a very busy and important year, and SCF will have the chance to make a significant impact on how both those trends develop in the next few years.