Panelists described small cells as being at the base of the growth hockey stick, during Small Cells, Big Deal at the AGL Conference, March 20, held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville. Panelists from three major carriers — AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint — and an equipment manufacturer, SpiderCloud, discussed how the deployment of metrocells, microcells, picocells will provide ample opportunities for the industry as a majority of that work will be outsourced.
“AT&T is working with partners to design and deploy small cells,” Melissa Ashurst, area business development manager, AT&T Antenna Services Group, said. “It is not something just anyone can do.”
Sprint will leverage the implementation expertise in the wireless industry, as well, according Seth Jones, Sprint senior manager, network engineering. “In a world where the rounding error for small cell deployment being in the tens of thousands, there is no way we can do it alone,” he said. “There will be a lot of outsourced activity in this space.
Jones added that tower companies already have the expertise to have a play in outdoor small cell deployment. “Outdoor small cells look very similar to a cellular panel antenna on the side of a building,” he said. “They require an understanding of mounting, climber safety, getting power to the antenna and how to backhaul the signal.”
While a small cell can be described as “anything and everything that is smaller than a macro-site,” further definition is needed as well as a greater understanding of the deployment complexities, panelists said.
“The challenge is defining exactly what is a small cell and how do you put it into a box so everybody understands it,” Jones said. “It is not quite baked yet. We are looking for further guidance from PCIA concerning the definition. It has an impact on zoning laws and how regulators look at what you are trying to deploy.”
Panelists discussed how small cells are integral to carriers’ strategies as they constantly work to avoid exhausting their spectrum.
“We have to innovate very aggressively to make sure we have the tools to keep up the capacity offload systems, which demand multi-band, multi-protocol small cells,” Jones said.
Small cells have evolved from consumer to IT-grade enterprise technology, similar to the evolution of Wi-Fi 15 years ago, according to Russell Agle, director of business development, SpiderCloud.
“Femtocells are akin to the consumer Wi-Fi market, good for residential use, but when you get to the dense, indoor deployments, particularly for enterprises, a separate [small cell] architecture is needed,” Agle said.
Jones said that increasing spectral efficiency through macrocell splitting is simply not enough to keep up with the pace of today’s data traffic.
“As carriers begin to talk almost casually about terabytes and petabytes of information, we cannot rely only on macrocells to provide all of our users with a great level of service,” Jones said. “We have to find another ways. We have to keep distributing the network and get smaller and smaller and smaller [coverage footprints per site].”