FirstLight has won a long-term dark fiber contract with a large wireless operator to implement a new cloud RAN (C-RAN) system to support a small cell deployment in northern New England.
Specifically, the new C-RAN ring will support wireless services in Manchester, New Hampshire, Biddeford, Maine, and Burlington, Vermont.
The fiber networks are purpose-built to support additional small cell deployment capabilities across smaller, Tier 2 and 3 markets throughout this region.
FirstLight’s small cell deal is notable given that small cell deployments are ramping up as wireless operators seek to increase network capacity in not only Tier 1 markets, but also in secondary markets.
Small cells rising
While initial rollouts of small cells have been slow, industry analysts say the market will pick up in coming years.
Mobile Experts forecast that small cell revenue will triple by 2022 to over $4.5 billion.
"The overall market, including residential femtocells, is growing at about 17% (CAGR) over our forecast period," said Kyung Mun, senior analyst for Mobile Experts, in a release. "But the growth for nonresidential small cells is even more dramatic. We expect carrier and enterprise segments to grow at over 30% CAGR from 2016-2022."
Similarly, ABI Research estimated a 43% compound annual growth rate for small cell technology as more operators seek to considerably densify their networks.
For FirstLight, this latest win is significant as it illustrates the potential in small cell backhaul. Wireless carriers are now turning their attention to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets and building out their nonmacro site network infrastructures in order to support the evolution to 5G for all of its customers.
Rural and remote small cell market deployments are still in early stages, but the Small Cell Forum estimated there will be sharp growth from 8,150 units in 2014 to 87,644 units by 2020.
FirstLight said it has completed several other projects throughout its footprint that will bring fiber-based connectivity to both macro and nonmacro sites for many wireless carriers.
But wireless backhaul is only one part of the value FirstLight sees in this deployment.
Similar to other fiber providers like Zayo, FirstLight can use the new fiber build to extend services to enterprise customers along these newly built routes.
This is because many business locations and school districts often reside nearby or along the same path of where the small cell and macro cells reside. FirstLight can identify opportunities that reside near the already deployed fiber.