SCF Awards: how past winners have helped to shape today’s industry

Despite the stresses and distractions of Covid-19, entries are still coming in for Small Cell Forum’s annual awards. This is a sign of how highly regarded they are our sector, that even with the date of the final ceremony delayed because of the current crisis, entering the awards is still a priority for many of our members. If you haven’t managed to submit your entry yet, we’d hate you to miss out.

After a decade, the SCF awards are one of the best-established and most respected of our industry’s prizes, recognizing innovation and achievement across the small cell ecosystem.

And the benefits of winning go well beyond the glory of collecting a trophy on the night of the ceremony, and being part of the post-event publicity. Winning an SCF award brings longer term recognition, as well as the chance to shape the Forum’s work program by highlighting key industry trends. And this year, even more than before, we are working on a programme of follow-up content to raise the profile of our winners throughout the industry.

A trip down memory lane, through the archive of past awards winners, reminds us how many of the early achievers in this sector are still success stories today, building on their initial successes in a fledgling industry to gain a pivotal role in today’s 5G-driven landscape.

Winners in the first awards in 2009 (when SCF was still called Femto Forum, and small cells were largely confined to the home) included IP.access, NEC, Sprint and Softbank – all still important players in the sector, and demonstrating that, right from the start, the awards were designed to honor vendors and operators alike, in an industry that has been built on cooperation as well as competition.

And Softbank’s award that year, for a project to use small cells to improve rural mobile coverage, reminds us that social impact on underserved communities has been a key element of the Forum’s work, and of the awards process, from the beginning – and particularly relevant in today’s difficult times.

Since that first year, many operators have been successful, and they have continued to be major drivers and deployers of small cells as the technology has expanded steadily into enterprises, cities and mainstream 4G and 5G strategies. AT&T, Vodafone, SK Telecom, Free Mobile, Reliance Jio, China Unicom, Sprint and many others have picked up trophies for an ever-widening variety of deployments and use cases. In each case, the interest generated in their awards success helped to showcase what could be achieved using small cells, building confidence and ensuring the hard-working engineers behind the projects gained full recognition.

Past vendor awards, too, often remind us of when an important new product or service was first brought to wide attention through winning a prize, and being part of all the surrounding publicity and discussion.

The prizes can be an effective way to highlight a new breakthrough or start-up, or a smaller player, to potential customers and partners. Airspan, IP.access and Parallel Wireless have been among the most prolific winners through the years, and have built on initial small cell success to become cornerstones of the broader ecosystem that is evolving around open networks and enterprise wireless. The 2017 awards saw Vodafone’s CrowdCell, now an important part of the open RAN platform, winning the award for small cell design, alerting the world that the small cell ecosystem would be far more open and broad than that of traditional mobile networks – a theme that, three years later, underpins the whole direction of travel for 5G.

That year’s winners’ list was a vintage one for showcasing the most disruptive elements of the small cell vision, providing profile and endorsement for companies which were trying to do something different in order to expand the reach of mobile broadband. From Spidercloud’s (now Corning’s) Los Angeles Airport network to Parallel Wireless and Gilat connecting the outback, it was clear that small cells could be successful in any environment.

The past few years’ awards reflect many of the trends that are now shaping commercial decisions by operators and their supply chains, as we all move towards densification and 5G. A good example is the diversification of siting and roll-out options, to make dense networks deployable and affordable in any environment. Billboard operator JC Decaux’s siting solution, UK operator EE’s AirMast, rapid enterprise implementations from OpenCell, Airspan’s AirStrand no-footprint small cell for aerial cables, flexible, multi-operator deployment models from DenseAir and Druid Software – these are just some examples from the past three years alone, of the way the awards have given credibility and profile to innovative, pragmatic solutions that are now being adopted at scale.

Another interesting memory from 2017 is of IP.access’s neutral host, multi-operator solution, SUMO, which was a winner for most innovative business case. This was an early indication that neutral host platforms would become a key theme in subsequent awards and in SCF work. This is just one example of how the awards process informs the work priorities of the Forum. From the nature of the submissions, the judges can identify the most significant areas of industry interest and investment, and the shortlisted and winning entries highlight, to the Forum, the trends that are shaping the sector.

That, in turn, shapes the work program to reflect those trends – so entering the awards does not merely provide an opportunity for recognition and profile for your own organization, but to ensure your priorities are reflected in the SCF’s wider work.

We know everyone has many preoccupations at the current time, but we urge you not to miss the chance to be a winner this year. Technology solutions will be at the heart of coping with the current crisis, and just as our first ever awards took place amid a global financial crash, so we believe that, this year, they will provide some valuable indications of how mobile networks will adapt to the new responsibilities placed upon them.

Submit your entry today and benefit from all that the SCF Small Cell Awards 2020 has to offer.