Small cell networks threaten MNO business

Mobile operators are under increasing threat from shared spectrum and the rising popularity of enterprise small cells. That’s according to RAN Research, the wireless forecasting division of Rethink Technology, which predicts that protocols such as LAA and MulteFire are going to be major threats to existing cellular operators.

RAN Research claims that by 2022, enterprise units will account for almost half of all small cell deployments, up from 7% in 2014, reaching 14.8 million units by 2022. There will be a concomitant rise in the importance of unlicensed spectrum driving enterprise and vertical small cells to scale with LTE-LAA roll-outs starting in 2018 and the more disruptive MulteFire running about 9-12 months behind. By 2020 these two will account for 25% of all new deployments.

The network operators have only themselves to blame if it all goes for wrong for them. Small cell technology was originally conceived to help network operators, but the refusal of the MNOs to share services has led to a host of a new competitors. According to RAN Research, an alliance of neutral hosts, cable operators and private network operators, will be able to harness a combination of enterprise small cells and unlicensed spectrum, to build their own localized networks to compete with the network operators.

Building block for 5G

Growth of small cell technology will be particularly strong in the Asia-Pacific region: this is expected to account for 55% of small cell deployments in 2022.

In a statement, the chairman of the Small Cell Forum welcomed the rise in instances of the technology,  “The industry is seeing explosive growth in the number of small cell deployments, which provide the densification solution to grow today’s LTE networks, as well as providing a fundamental building block for tomorrow’s 5G deployments,” said David Orloff.