The Femto Forum announced last week (15 February 2012) that it is to be renamed the Small Cell Forum in order to better reflect its work which embraces residential, enterprise, metro and rural small cells, as well as to prevent the perception that the small cell arena is fragmented.
The Small Cell Forum will serve to develop consensus on common approaches, standards and agreed best practice for all small cells. The Forum will address all small cells that operate in licensed spectrum, are operator-managed and feature edge-based intelligence – including what have been dubbed femtocells, picocells, microcells and metrocells.
It will also support the crossover between small cells and other relevant technologies including: Wi-Fi, cloud RAN (which connects cellular radio to cloud-based intelligence over fibre), DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems), as well as macrocells as part of the new heterogeneous network (hetnet) environment.
The role of the Small Cell Forum will be to tackle the practical challenges facing deployment. This includes finding appropriate small cell sites; delivering power and backhaul; managing interactions between small cells, macrocells and other wireless technologies; and effective interoperability and network management.
This continues the work of the Femto Forum which has been actively working on small cells outside the home for some time, as well as their interactions with other technologies. Examples of this work include integrated Femto/Wi-Fi devices and networks; enterprise multi-femto architectures; public access small cell interference management; standards and management processes which are generic across all small cell types; and LTE small cell standards for all environments.
Simon Saunders, Chairman of the Small Cell Forum, said: ‘Femtocell technology was originally designed for the home but has since extended into enterprise picocells, urban metrocells and modern microcells for all manner of locations. The core technologies developed by members of the Femto Forum - including Systems on a Chip, provisioning systems, standardised gateways, and other related innovations - lower the cost of licensed band solutions and facilitate easy deployments for all small cell products. As such it is the ‘small cell’ banner that now best represents these technologies and it is one that mobile operators are strongly endorsing. In fact, surveys show operators regard small cells as playing a more important role than macrocells in future mobile networks.’
According to ABI Research, 4.3 million small cells (including femtocells, picocells and microcells) will be shipped in 2012, rising to 36.8 million shipments in 2016, valued at $20.4 billion. They find that residential and enterprise models currently dominate small cell shipments with 62% and 30% respectively. ABI Research’s data suggests that by 2016, while indoor small cells will be 94% of total shipments, outdoor small cells will make up 64% of the revenue.
The success of the small cell market to date has focused on femtocells, which have been deployed by 38 operators worldwide, including eight of the top ten (by revenue), with a 112% increase in deployments in 2011. These deployments have started to achieve scale with Sprint surpassing 500,000 units and Vodafone UK, Japan’s Softbank and France’s SFR, exceeding 100,000 – not to mention AT&T which is the world’s largest deployment.