The United Kingdom based Small Cell Forum recently released their annual Small Cell Market Status Report which included a wealth of statistics and trends about the rapidly evolving deployments of small cells worldwide. The report included a list of top barriers to small cell deployments as identified through a survey of 78 different mobile network operators (MNOs) from across the globe.
I took the liberty of categorizing the list of barriers into four general groups and offering some commentary on each.
- The cost to build and operate small cells – The cost to deploy and operate a single small cell is still significantly higher than MNO targets which is an obvious barrier. The industry must continue to innovate both the technology as well as the deployment process.
- Identifying approvable sites – Because small cells are still a new concept to many communities, the approval process can be lengthy and difficult. Jurisdictions and communities need to be educated about the needs and advantages of small cells. As an industry, we are still in the early stages of generating awareness and developing processes for site approvals. As deployments continue, awareness will increase, the process will be refined, and speed will improve with scale.
- Availability and costs of backhaul – This is a big one. Simply put there is not enough fiber in enough places to support the anticipated deployments. Large investments are needed to push fiber closer to the end users.
- Interoperability with macro sites, Wi-Fi and HetNets – This is a network engineering and design issue which is outside the area of expertise for Md7. However, we do regularly encounter this fourth barrier. Even if we overcome the first three barriers listed above, if the engineers can’t make it work within their overall design, then we have to start over.
Conclusion: As an industry, we are beginning to see movement on all of the top barriers to small cells but are still a long way from achieving significant economies of scale.