As Ofcom launches a consultation on extra spectrum for 5G mobile, the reality is starting to kick in. Although a standard for 5G is not expected to be agreed until sometime in 2017, the preparation for what 5G will mean to operators and customers has already begun. The expected surge in demand for mobile network capacity, not just for calls and emails but for video and increased IoT device data from homes and offices, is already whetting appetites but also raising issues.
The smartphone has without doubt changed the way we work and live and we are still only at the beginning. Ofcom talks about our “smartphone society” in its communications report and increased penetration rates (two thirds of UK adults have a smartphone), but this is nothing. As generation X grows into working life, full of tech savvy and digital expectation, 5G is expected to make a timely debut. With this expected surge in demand for capacity and speeds how do operators deliver and maintain network services without hiking costs?
To enable the target data rates and quality, mobile operators will need to densify the amount of cells in their network by utilising small cell technology and LTE-Advanced features that promote better coordination between macro and small cell networks and more efficient use of spectrum. Small cell technology in particular has tremendous promise. BT has been investing in small cell research and development for over five years now and we can see both the short and long term value of using the technology to meet the expected mobile demands of consumers and businesses.
We are not alone in our thinking. A report from Markets and Markets looking at small cell technology adoption says that "such high dependence on the usage of mobile data has effectively driven the installation of small cells to reduce the bottle-necks in the available spectrum. Small cells can be installed indoors and outdoors and require minimum infrastructure, thereby reducing the capital expenditure and improving revenues for the service provider."
So will they cope? Certainly they can address both short term and long term challenges, reducing the overall cost of operations and increasing revenue and margins, while in the long term enhancing the network quality and helping to create a loyal customer base.
Based on the May 2016 Market Status Report by the Small Cells Forum, the UK could reasonably see upwards of 40,000 outdoor small cells across the country within the next five years. It makes sense, but to hit these numbers we believe several key interventions are required. We need to look at planning restrictions and rental agreements, make the backhaul solution resilient and upgradeable and of course to reach an acceptable TCO for small cells (where the cost of sending a Gbyte of data through a small cell network is less than sending the same through a macro network). It will demand a shift in thinking, certainly in terms of sharing infrastructure; otherwise it will be unworkable and costly.
Finding a sharing model that works (site assets, backhaul and even hardware) will determine the level of cost reductions that be achieved while enabling MNOs to retain spectrum control. This is where we are working hard to make it happen, to innovate and collaborate where possible to reach a viable commercial point at which outdoor small cells can thrive. To find out more about how we’ve been preparing for the growth of outdoor small cells, and how we can help you make outdoor small cells work in the real world, download our latest whitepaper - Mobilising the outdoor small cells market. And if you’re interested in discussing it further we’d be happy to set up a meeting with our small cells experts to discuss how we can work together to get to the commercial tipping point that will make outdoor small cells a reality. Just drop your account manager an email.
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