MWC 2014 Preview: Operators missing small cell service expansion opportunity, says ip.access

New research shows coverage not service dictates planning and this requires a change in operator approach to add network value and build new services, argue small cell provider ip.access and analysts Yankee Group

MWC 2014 Preview: Operators missing small cell service expansion opportunity, says ip.access

Ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this month, small cell pioneers, ip.access, and research analyst house Yankee Group, challenged mobile operators to change their thinking on small cell deployments and trigger a new wave of service-led installations.

“Our own diagnosis of the situation is now backed up by independent, in-depth research interviews,” said ip.access CEO Simon Brown. “Too many operators are asking the wrong questions about small cells. They are looking to plug network holes rather than build new services.

“Operators should be looking to small cells to grow business, for example launching location or presence-based services, and providing improved voice and data service to business customers to lock them further into their network. However, that mindset requires a business-led approach to small cell planning and not an engineering-led one,” said Brown.

The Yankee Group findings are published in a white paper titled 'Accelerating Enterprise Small Cells'. Prepared for ip.access, the findings are based on behind-the-scenes industry-wide soundings and a series of in-depth interviews with five leading mobile operators. Yankee Group principal analyst, Ken Rehbehn, who conducted the interviews, highlighted how striking it was that every operator’s thinking on small cells was dominated by the traditional engineering view of coverage and voice reception.

“We were looking to see if the detailed operator feedback lined up with the experiences we were hearing from ip.access, and our own view of the market at the outset. If anything, the thinking we encountered was even more narrowly focused,” said Rehbehn.

“It seems, as far as small cells are concerned, RF engineers still drive deployment. The marketing and sales teams are largely unengaged, leaving the services potential of small cells trapped within tactically oriented RAN teams. Clearly, a major service opportunity is being ignored,” he added.

Small cell take-up in the last few years has been accelerating and another surge is widely forecast, triggered by deployments of combined 3G/LTE small cells. However, the paper states that faster, targeted, deployment of indoor business and public access 3G small cells now could trigger new revenues and pave the way for continued, service-led, growth for the operator community.

“We are doing very good business at the moment and we also have some upcoming operator service contracts that reflect this new way of thinking,” said Brown. “We see an opportunity to add value to the network that is much greater than is revealed by a simple coverage and capacity view of the world – and it can be delivered very cost-effectively.”

Brown explained that ip.access had developed a “business-case chaining” approach that was allowing its operator customers to build a service case for accelerating small cell deployment.

“Even if you initially trigger a small cell deployment for coverage and capacity reasons,” explained Brown, “it means you have done the heavy lifting of integration and small-cell enabled your network. The incremental cost of adding additional cells and growing offerings for different subscriber groups thereafter is very, very much lower while the revenue opportunities are greater.

Rehbehn agreed that the engineering voice still held sway within operators when it came to small cell policy.

“It’s understandable,” he said, “because small cells have a coverage-filling heritage, but it’s outdated. Operators who still only look at the technology from that point of view are restricting themselves, restricting their service opportunities, and most importantly, restricting revenues.”

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