IHS: 90% of mobile operators have deployed small cells

Nokia small cell

About 90 percent of mobile operators have already deployed small cells and the rest plan to do so by the end of 2017, according to IHS Markit’s annual small cells strategies study.

The new total represents an increase over the 86 percent of mobile operators that last year said they had already deployed small cells. As IHS pointed out, the small cells deployment trend is accelerating because of the need to quickly address coverage and capacity.

“This illustrates the continued importance of adding small cells into existing macrocellular networks to close up coverage gaps and increase capacity. The principal business drivers behind operators’ deployment of small cells are lower subscriber churn and increased revenue,” IHS wrote in a research note.

According to the firm’s survey, most respondents are still connecting small cells to the nearest base station, but the use of gateways is rising. The study also revealed that the majority of small cells are being deployed in 1.5GHz to 2.2GHz spectrum.

Of the features that are driving increased small cell activity, IHS said security has gone from the bottom of respondents’ list five years ago to be the top-rated feature this year.

IHS chart

“Generally speaking, a small cell is easier to hack than a macro site that is typically not easily accessible to the public – and this will continue despite their camouflage,” the firm wrote. “However, innovation in small cell installation in public spaces has led to small cells being embedded into furniture in public places such as bus stops in Amsterdam and London.”

Nokia, now integrated with Alcatel-Lucent, is the top small cells vendor, ahead of Ericsson, Huawei and SpiderCloud, according to the study.

Indeed, the amount of operators embracing a small cells strategy is going up, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into large-scale deployments yet. As MoffettNathanson pointed out earlier this year, only 30,000 small cells have been deployed in the U.S. so far.

Still, vendors like Crown Castle and American Tower, along with operators including AT&T and Sprint, have placed more emphasis on small cells deployments while the FCC has been taking steps to streamline the installation approval process.

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