As we approach the holiday season, it’s once again time for me (and other analysts) to reflect back on the year gone by, revisit our predictions and make some new ones for the year ahead. CBRS has progressed but will not be commercially deployed until early 2019, still holding much promise. Open Source projects like TIP seem to be gaining momentum, but it remains to be seen if there were be a large breakthrough. Mainstream media continue to hype 5G. Political decisions could affect the market share of major RAN vendors. Business and regulatory issues will set the pace for next year rather than technology development alone.
My overall view is that last year’s predictions were generally correct and in the right direction but progress towards them has been slow and steady. This often seems to be the case with Small Cell forecasts.
Looking back at 2018
I had forecast three main areas of opportunity this past year
CBRS could become the poster child for small cell take-up, overcoming many of the regulatory and operator barriers to deployment.
As is often the case where significant regulatory change is required, the timescale has stretched into early 2019. Nonetheless, the FCC has now made its decision, issued the rules leaving it down to execution. Even the thorny issue of PAL licences has been resolved.
So it will be 2019 where I am much more confident we will see CBRS commercially launched, with Private LTE applications dominating indoors and major operators (both MNOs and Cable MSOs) deploying for outdoor use. I think much of what can be achieved will work perfectly well with the simpler GAA mode, and that many considering paying for PAL licences might ask themselves whether that will be worthwhile, particularly for indoor applications.
2) Growing pressure to improve the quality of service inbuilding should drive operators to approve and connect with lower cost solutions. A mix of DAS combined with Small Cell, including the distributed radio systems from Huawei and Ericsson, address the needs of larger buildings while standalone small cells continue to offer great value for smaller properties.
Perhaps it's just my service provider, but I remain perplexed that the quality of service in-building remains patchy and inconsistent. I've tried Wi-Fi Calling but find myself frequently disconnected for no apparent reason (good Wi-Fi signal, only user in the building, no obvious interference). Few operators have invested in approving 4G enterprise femtocells for their networks, and several have withdrawn the 3G products on offer. Larger buildings can justify the higher expense of a DRS or DAS solution, and we see Huawei have forecast substantial growth of their Lampsite 2.0 and 3.0 product. What's needed is for building owners and enterprises to have a clear solution on offer at a commercially justifiable cost and understand who will facilitate this for them. Network operators generally still don't see the benefits and do not actively support others spending money on equipment that would offload their own networks.
3) 5G will continue to have a high profile. Early commercial trials will provide fixed wireless service in the US and a few high profile sites in other countries. Otherwise, cellular service with small cells will predominantly be based on LTE.
I'd say my prediction here was spot on. There are numerous small scale trials of 5G proving the concept, but it's far from mainstream yet. The definition of 5G does include LTE, and I think we will see further development and investment in 4G technology for quite some time. There is great advantage in being compatible with existing smartphones.
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Meanwhile, season’s greetings to all our readers and we wish you a prosperous and successful 2019.