To meet the rising demand for mobile data, operators will need to pursue a multi-pronged approach to upgrading and backfilling for capacity and throughput on their cellular voice/data networks. This approach, which combines RAN upgrades, new licensed spectrum, Wi-Fi, small cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS), is typically referred to as the heterogeneous network or het-net.
iGR recently released a new small cell study, U.S. Small Cells Total Addressable Market, 2012 - 2017: Sizing a Growing Opportunity, which is a combination of three recent studies regarding 3G and 4G LTE metrocells, residential femtocells and enterprise picocells. The new market study includes forecasts for the theoretical maximum size of the market for each type of small cell, example deployments, business and market drivers and detailed profiles of twenty-seven companies that provide solutions in the small cell market.
"By 2017, iGR expects the average consumer's consumption of mobile data in the U.S. to increase by eleven times over the level in 2012. The mobile networks must adapt to this vastly increased demand and we see small cells as an important part of the solution," said Iain Gillott, president and founder of iGR. "This new study shows that the total addressable market for residential femtocells, picocells and metrocells is significant at nearly 21.2 million units by 2017 but also that the opportunity for the different types of cells grow at different rates."
The small cell term is relatively new and is sometimes used in different ways. iGR defines a "small cell" as a low power product (relative to macrocells) that operates on licensed frequencies and functions as small, self-contained cellular base stations. Small cells include metrocells, femtocells, and picocells:
Metrocells are, as compared to macrocells, low power cell sites that operate on an operator's licensed frequency to provide additional coverage and/or capacity in a given area. There are three types of metrocells: those that operate on 3G only, 4G only and those that can operate on both.
Residential femtocells are one way mobile operators can improve the quality of their subscribers' cellular voice service -- primarily from the standpoint of creating or improving coverage inside a home. Most residential femtocells deployed in the U.S. today were rolled out to improve coverage for high-value customers.
A picocell is, in essence, a larger femtocell that is deployed into a business or small venue. The typical picocell is physically larger than a femtocell, has a higher power output (between 100 to 150 milliwatts) and, consequently, has a longer range and the ability to support a larger area, traffic capacity and/or more concurrent users (between 8 to 32).