One of the major barriers to deployment of outdoor small cells is the lack of a standard, streamlined process for identifying and acquiring sites, as well as wildly divergent fee structures for site rental.
In its mission to lower such barriers and accelerate roll-out of dense networks, Small Cell Forum has identified site costs and processes as a key priority in its work program. We know that, especially in some dense urban scenarios, a radically different approach will be required to achieve the right economics for operators. So it was interesting to see one such approach proposed by TeleWorld Solutions in the USA.
TeleWorld has launched SmallCellSite.com, an online service which matches operators with site owners, enabling the former to identify the sites they want online and agree a price based on a marketplace system.
Site owners can market their locations to operators by uploading information and pricing. As in a consumer marketplace, they are presented with suggested fee structures based on the TeleWorld algorithms. The sites are then searchable, via an interactive map interface, by the operators, together with data on their size, distance to fiber, backhaul and power, and other features.
This is an example of the kind of disruptive approach which will be essential to speed the pace of small cell roll-out in some areas where traditional OPEX levels make it economically non-viable for operators to scale up to the density they need to support rising data traffic.
The trend to harness dynamic, online marketplace processes, rather than traditional lease negotiation and pricing, will only increase as densification becomes critical to operators. This approach has already been seen in the public WiFi world, where BandwidthX’s algorithms match WiFi hotspot providers with operators which need extra capacity on an ongoing or temporary basis.
These new systems may be one way to smooth the road to deployment for small cells, especially if they can secure support from all the stakeholders involved, including city authorities. Small Cell Forum is very open to innovative solutions to the issues of site acquisition and cost, and expects there to be a widening range of options for operators in different situations.
One thing is clear – the well-established processes governing microsite rental are not suited to the world of dense small cells. Something new is needed, and while one process will not fit all the many scenarios in which small cells will be deployed, the Forum aims to provide consistency and clear guidelines for each approach. It also provides a valuable place where all the various stakeholders – site owners, local authorities, operators and fiber providers – can exchange views on neutral ground.
Work on site challenges will continue within our two new work streams, which will be initiated at the European plenary meeting in Rome on September 13-15. One of those streams is entitled ‘Deploying Hyperdense Networks’, and it is clear that a smooth, well-understood and scalable approach to site logistics and costs will be a key enabler of this, now and in the 5G era.