Going big with small cells

Phil Marshall/Tolaga Research
19 Jun 2013

As mobile broadband demand continues to drive traffic growth, the business case for small-cell technology is compelling. This is particularly the case in markets like the US, Japan and Korea, where data traffic is overwhelming the capabilities of traditional network designs, and challenging return-on-invested-capital expectations.

Using Tolaga’s Network Explorer Platform, we found that a typical US operator with a large-scale, small-cell deployment would see a 10-15% relative improvement in cumulative discounted cash-flow over a five year period. These improvements are predicated on small-cells being deployed at a cost of between $5000-$10,000 over such period as well as cost-effective backhaul and extensive operational simplification and automation.

We believe that operational simplification and automation currently presents the greatest challenge for large-scale outdoor small-cell implementations. This simplification and automation spans the entire value-chain and includes the following.

First, RF engineering and planning, which is evolving from traditional macro-cellular to integrated macro/small-cell centric planning using tools such as Mentum-Planet. Although planning will be needed for the foreseeable future, increasingly it will be aided by advanced real-time radio management techniques that are becoming available.

Second, site acquisition, which has traditionally been a complex process for macro-cellular implementations, involving protracted zoning approvals and negotiations. Standardized site configurations, infrastructure sharing and converged infrastructure form-factors have enabled master lease agreements to simplify site acquisition. Further simplifications are necessary for large-scale small-cell deployments. In particular, there is a need to package suitable street furniture within zones or clusters for rapid site deployments. We believe that the economics of small-cells will drive towards neutral host installations.

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