April 29, 2015 — One thing that is so exciting about this industry is the pace at which thing change. PCIA is the perfect platform to showcase that.
Each year the best and brightest companies show up here to present a plethora of new and innovative products and services. But to this editor, that is nice but the real drool comes from listening to the best and brightest minds from these best and brightest companies – and there were no shortage of them here at this show.
Unfortunately, there are some exceptions. Before I go on to praise the many individuals who took the time to sit on panels, present over-the-top keynotes and keep us technogeeks on the edge of our high- seats, I just have to do a quick call on a what I think was an out of place keynote.
Leave it to T-Mobile, who instead of taking the opportunity to tell us what the future holds, spent 30 minutes on a shameless self-promotion. Shame on you Dave Mayo, for wasting my time this AM while you did nothing but promote T-Mobile and laud on its accomplishment. Do I really care your churn rate is only 1.3 percent? Emphatically, no!
I won’t spend any more time on this but what makes this even worse is that T-Mobile sponsored the slot. That is just typical of the kind of mentality that the big carriers have. It may work on the average consumer, but all it did was lower my respect for T-Mobile another notch. And you were the only one – what does that say about the company?
Now…on to the good stuff…
I especially enjoyed the keynote by Chris Stark of Nokia. He presented an excellent narrative about the connected society, giving us a glimpse of what the future holds. He is captivating speaker, no wonder he was chosen to give one of the keynotes.
And, my special thanks to Jonathan Adelstein, PCIA’s president and CEO. Hats off to you Jonathan, for your top-shelf narratives and awesome leadership of this organization.
The session, “The Coming Data Tsunami” was packed full of forward-thing comments by a panel of respected experts who really had their fingers on the pulse of the deluge of data coming down the pike.
There was a lengthy discussion about how the infrastructure was going to handle this, and how to implement densification, which will have to happen to provide the coverage and bandwidth. As well, what will be needed, both in technology and infrastructure to keep the networks from buckling under the weight of the massive deluge of data expected in the next few years was a lengthy topic. And how to deal with the inevitable interference issues that arise with densification. Plenty of meat and some real down to earth assessments of what the landscape would look like in a couple of years if we don’t start preparing for this right now.
One of the things about small cells that is on everyone’s lips is how to make money on them. The session “Making the Small Cell Business Model Work” calls it like it is, and the bottom line is that it will take 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of small cell deployments before a good business model evolves. And who will pay for the development of this model? The issue of financing was a hot topic because, unlike centralized deployments of technology such as a data center where everything is in one place, and often the manufacturer will help with financing (IBM for example), small cells are stand-alone distributed deployments with little centralization. There is little aggregation of costs across multiple cells and that is difficult to monetize, so far.
There is consensus that once the cost comes down, the interconnect becomes more available (back/front haul), deployments become easier (more access to street furniture, less regulation and less conspicuous installation) small cells will gain traction. And as consumer pressure mounts for more connectivity momentum will start and that will feed forward to economies of scale that will make deployments cheaper and easier.
There are plenty of opportunities, though. In places like downtown metropolitan areas, beach communities, sports venues, special events and rural areas, but the million dollar question remains today — much as it has the past few years – how to monetize these deployments. And there are no obvious answers in the crystal ball. More likely, it will be an evolution of several segments — cost, apps, ease of deployments and technology — to name a few.
In some of these cases, cases, the cost is covered by the location, but it generally becomes a capex/opex cost and not a revenue generator. Ubiquitous connectivity is an expectation rather than a perk for the user, so the revenue will have to come from the push end.
This isn’t news, but at least the awareness of the monetizing problems was well debated and what it will take to get small cells deployments into the black. As well, there was discussion about some of the other economic issues that plague small cells such as the expense of backhaul, regulation and placement.
There is a bright side, however. It was discussed that there are some real opportunities for small cell deployments. Downtowns, city centers, sports venues, beach communities, places where macro cells just aren’t a workable. It will happen – just how and when is still a bit of a mystery.
“Building the HetNet” was one of those engaging sessions where concept is turning into reality. The deployment of HetNets is key strategy for spectrum efficiency. Not if, but when. Without the transition from stand-alone nets to integrated nets, there is little hope for any type of spectral efficiency going forward. Items that need to be addressed, according to the panel, are things like educating the industry on their metrics – costs, technology, organization, etc., and what they can accomplish, their benefits and revenue models.
One of the best sessions was the lunch-over CTO roundtable, hosted by Adelstein. The panel of experts was truly impressive. And what they had to say was equally as impressive. It was about the network architecture of the future and the role small cells will play. They were upbeat about small cells going forward. The issues of cost will be resolved was the consensus. It will be a little while, but it will happen.
An interesting message from the panel was the insight that small cells would be further along if the carriers would have gotten on board earlier. But the same specter raises its ugly head. The carriers had little incentive since there was little bang for the buck in it for them.
Overall, the small cell atmosphere was a lot more positive this year than last. According to the consensus, this year will see a lot of technology emerge, with some progress coming in the form of small, 10’s to 100’s of unit deployments being rolled out. Once these catch on and the model starts to become visible, traction will ramp up in 2016 and that may be the year we can cautiously say small cells are finally part of the landscape.
Stay tuned…part two, tomorrow…