July 12, 2016 — Technology is finally able to deliver radio frequency signals to virtually all of the nooks and crannies we inhabit. And going forward, upward of 70 percent of these RF signals are going to be data. With this predicted explosion of data consumption looming like a potential black hole gobbling up data, it is understandable why there is so much focus on small cells. They are seen as being the new RF platform that can off-load much of this data from the macro networks.
Small sites are much less expensive and deliver capacity right to the customers, and each site operates independently. This leads some to suggest that macrosystems may be passé. However, DAS and small cell systems complement macrosystems, they don’t replace them, at least not for the foreseeable future. If all things were equal, DAS and small cell systems would replace macrosystems, and we would take down all the towers. Yea, sure, I see that happening. Not for 50 years or more? OK, seriously, never do I see that happening. It makes no RF engineering sense.
That being said, let’s look at things from various perspectives: the macro network owner (tower owner), the small cell network provider, the carrier and the consumer.
From the macro networks owner’s perspective, the small site complements the macro network. Small sites alleviate capacity problems, placing many high-capacity network nodes closer to the users. This reduces the immediate need for additional macrosites, which is both good and not so good. Investing in or owning a managed network with a recurring revenue stream is attractive to the typical macrosite owner; it looks a lot like real estate. Ultimately, the need for additional macrosites will continue to grow because new frequency bands will continue to be added, at least for the foreseeable future. Eventually, however, macrosites will load to capacity and the macro network owners will have to deal with that and, the proliferation of small cells.
For the small cell network provider, this looks like a land grab. There’s lots of opportunity out there, with no present standardization of deal structure, installations, or designs yet – and, there is no “procedures manual.” Yet, it’s a great time to be creative and build an organization that can scale, and to turn over as many deals as possible.
To the carrier, this is a nightmare scenario. For years, carriers have been struggling to keep up; deployment schedules, budgets, contractors and sites continue to go only one way. But there was at least some kind of steady growth line. Small cells challenge that and, for the carrier, small site locations will proliferate by an order of magnitude and aggregate the management issues.
To the average customer things only look better and better. There are more ways to check Facebook, contact colleagues, kids and families, and goof around (I could never really watch video unless stationary, but I know plenty of people who do). I can’t begin to think of how many kilobytes of data Siri takes every time I say, “call the office.” But it works, and we just keep demanding more while wanting to pay less.