Small cells are set to grow from 3.2 million in 2012 to 62.4 million by 2016, according to Informa Telecoms & Media’s inaugural small cell market status report. The predicted growth represents a 2,000% (or 20x) increase and will mean 88% of all base stations globally will be a form of small cell.
The report, produced for the Small Cell Forum, finds that small cell deployments are set to be dominated by femtocells with the installed base to grow from 2.5 million in 2012 to 59 million in 2016 – a 2,400% (or 24x) increase. Enterprise and public area picocells are set to grow from 140,000 in 2012 to 540,000 in 2016 – a 385% (or 4x) increase. Public access small cells, which are mostly installed outdoors and encompass microcells and metrocells, are set to grow from 595,000 in 2012 to 2.9 million in 2016 – a 480% (or 5x) increase.
Informa said that it is important to note that between 2012 and 2015, public access small cells will evolve from traditional designs to next generation models. These new models will employ the advances made in the femtocell market including new chipsets, advanced RF and network management, as well as lower cost components.
The small cell market has seen numerous crucial developments in 2012. This includes new small cell deployments from Vodafone Portugal, 3UK, Free in France, regional US operator Mosaic Telecom and the world’s first LTE femtocell deployment by SK Telecom. There have also been deployment commitments from Telefónica O2 and Telenor Group.
Over the same period there have also been important vendor acquisitions and product launches. Ericsson, which recently revealed plans to launch a range of new multi-mode small cells, announced on 21 February 2012 that it is to acquire Wi-Fi vendor BelAir Networks. One of the leading providers of femtocell chipsets, Picochip, was acquired by Mindspeed.
Numerous other vendors announced that their small cell portfolios are set to include support for Wi-Fi including Alcatel Lucent and Nokia Siemens Networks. In the other direction, Ruckus Wireless announced that it would be adding support for licensed small cells to its public Wi-Fi technology.
Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, commented: ‘Small cells are set to drastically reshape mobile networks over the next few years as they become comfortably the most common form of base station worldwide. Over the past few months alone we’ve seen a host of new operators make small cell announcements including major players like Telenor and Telefónica O2, as well as smaller providers like 3UK and Free in France, whose free femtocell offer looks set to be highly disruptive.
‘Unsurprisingly this sea change in mobile networks is impacting merger and acquisition activity with Mindspeed acquiring small cell chipset frontrunner Picochip, while Ericsson provided further proof of the importance of Wi-Fi in small cells by picking up BelAir Networks,’ said Mavrakis.