As mobile links become the primary connections for many businesses, small cells are moving to the heart of the enterprise action, since in many environments, they are the only way to achieve foolproof voice and data coverage. That trend will drive small cells rapidly across the chasm to large-scale deployment in 2016, as two major research studies indicate.
These studies, commissioned by Small Cell Forum, surveyed two sides of market – the enterprises themselves, and the ecosystem which will deliver the solutions they need. Enterprise technology research specialists Nemertes talked to over 500 organizations round the world – of varying sizes and spread over 17 vertical sectors. They found that 60% of those expect to have started deploying small cells by the end of next year.
This will be driven by the need for completely reliable coverage and capacity, for voice and data purposes – 94% of the enterprises said poor in-building mobile coverage affected their business. And once those fundamentals are addressed, many respondents are already looking to build on the small cells to achieve additional benefits, such as new services for customers in a venue, improved overall communications costs, or better security.
Meanwhile, a study of the small cell ecosystem by Mobile Experts calculated that the enterprise sector will be worth $4 billion a year by 2020, and that during 2016 alone, unit shipments will quadruple.
There are always challenges when a market shifts from the innovation phase to mass-scale deployment. The innovation cannot let up, because new architectures and use cases continually need to be embraced to ensure the platform keeps up with changing needs. But there are also many practical issues – such as deployment processes, automation and management, pricing and regulation – which need to be addressed to drive scalability.
The Small Cell Forum’s Release 6, entitled Smart Enterprise, is a valuable resource in pushing the goal posts both in innovation and scale, and many of the work items which are being tackled in 2016 will continue to enhance the platform, taking in changes such as virtualization, the Internet of Things, and how to achieve a true HetNet.
This enterprise growth will be one factor making the broader small cell market a buoyant one this year. A total of 13.3 million cells have now been deployed, and the pace is accelerating – in 2015, over 3m units shipped, breaking the $1bn equipment revenue barrier for the first time. While residential femtocells currently make up the bulk of the base, non-residential units accounted for almost 40 per cent of shipments in Q415, according to Mobile Experts, and the coming years will see increasing diversity in the installed base, with growth shifting increasingly towards enterprise and also urban environments.