Small cells as a service

Daryl Schoolar/Ovum
05 Oct 2012

Virgin Media Business recently announced that it had completed a trial of LTE small cells in the UK cities of Newcastle and Bristol. The operator eventually plans to offer a small-cell network service to other mobile operators.

Kevin Baughan, director of technical strategy at Virgin Media, has stated that the trial results have been shared with Everything Everywhere, 3, and Vodafone. As part of this small cell-as-a-service (SCaaS) proposition, Virgin would acquire real estate for the cells and provide the fiber backhaul links.

This is important as site acquisition and backhaul are two of the major challenges that mobile operators must deal with when deploying a small-cell network.

A wholesale small-cell network makes sense

Virgin Media’s approach endorses the view that sharing small cells is the most logical approach for

the industry. Finding sites to build macro mobile base stations is already proving difficult in some cities.

As a result, many telcos have begun to share sites in cities to overcome the challenges of high rent and environmental concerns. Sharing also helps to reduce capex costs and other financial outlays for backhaul and site acquisition.

With small-cell sites, local authorities will need to be proactive if they are to structure the market appropriately. It is highly unlikely that authorities will allow the proliferation of the hundreds of small-cell sites that will be required by each operator in major cities. As a result, forcing operators to share their networks will ensure that city streets are not cluttered with separate small-cell network deployments.

If local authorities fail to take proactive action, they could face serious issues in the future. For example, if one operator is allowed to roll out services, but others are then discouraged to do the same by authorities concerned about the proliferation of sites, the authority is likely to face legal challenges.

As Ovum noted in the report The Neutral Host Model: The Devil is in the Detail, this concern makes small cells particularly suited to sharing, and Virgin Media is aiming to become a neutral host in this situation.

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