It takes many months for the Small Cell Forum to complete a work program. So the contents of this week's Release 6 entitled Smart Enterprise published during Mobile World Congress would have been determined quite some time ago. In a fast changing industry, I'd say they've selected the right topics and maintained their focus on the major issues of the industry today. Their key theme is Enterprise including Neutral Host and LTE-U/LAA. I spoke to Alan Law, their Chairman, to find out how their extensive guidance on best practice is being adopted.
Release 6 comprises a set of 14 documents (13 plus an infographic) mostly oriented around Enterprise. You may recall that was also the same focus of their Release 2, back in December 2013 which has enjoyed thousands of document downloads to date. Two and a half years later, this new document set thoroughly revisits and revalidates the need for good Enterprise cellular service.
Alan Law, Chairman of the Small Cell Forum, shared the results of a worldwide survey of 500 major Enterprises conducted across 17 sectors. A surprising 60% expected to have some form of in-buiding cellular solution deployed by as early as the end of next year (2017). He notes that "Good communications have become tablestakes for Enterprise business" - and I'm sure he didn't mean just friendly chats by the watercooler.
Talking to others during the initial stages of the show, I'm often reminded of the early and overly enthusiastic analyst forecasts for small cell growth. One industry veteran observed that these have almost gained a reputation resembling the film "Groundhog Day", with the same figures appearing to be restated and shifted later by a year each new year.
Alan was keen to point out this wasn't the case today. Rather than all being bleeding new edge innovation, small cells have become boring mainstream. Those analyst forecasts from last year haven't been updated or delayed - instead we really are witnessing rapid growth and commercial spending in this sector. Enterprise Small Cells are the primary market segment of growth, with equipment spending having doubled during 2015 to around 400,000 units. A further growth of 4x is forecast during this year, to reach 1.5 million shipments. I'd comment that these units are more sophisticated and therefore priced somewhat higher than residential femtocells (think in terms of a few hundred dollars rather than just tens or many thousands, including software licences). Small Cell equipment spend exceeded $1 billion last year, and will grow to some $4 billion by 2020 excluding project deployment costs. In that timeframe, Alan predicts that Small Cells will carry over 90% of all cellular data traffic and comprise over 85% of all cellular basestations (by number of units). Pretty much every mobile network operator will be deploying Small Cells of some sort by 2017.
He paints a major transformation during the next five years through 2020, well before 5G would begin to have any significant impact.
The bottom line is that while Small Cells may not be top of the headlines at this year's show (the key themes being 5G, IoT and Cloud), the technology hasn't fallen by the wayside and is quietly being adopted into the mainstream of many (most?) network operators plans. Several vendors have been unable to quote the names of specific network operators they are working with (because their customers don't want to lose out on any competitive advantage). But the Forum has published a growing set of case studies/examples from their members which demonstrate increasing acceptance.
The Release 6 document set is released today and can be viewed online at scf.io
There's lots more excitement, news and surprises at this year's show. Keep an eye out for our upcoming comprehensive show report, from our unique small cell perspective, once we've digested the week's firehose of announcements, meetings and publications.
If you are onsite this week, drop by the Small Cell Forum stand (7F61) where I'll be speaking tomorrow (Wednesday 4:30pm), drilling into the real-world "State of the Nation" of Small Cells, Wi-FI, DAS and Remote Radio Heads. As a taster, here's my summary of the Small Cell market by segment at the moment.