Rethink Technology Research says mobile operators are rethinking their approach to the mobile data capacity crunch. And they're thinking they need to plan for a proportional investment in small-cell technologies.
Fifty-nine percent of service providers expect to deploy at least 10 times more small cells by 2017 than in 2011. Unfortunately, 47 percent of network planners ay they lack the planning resources to get the job done. It is their biggest challenge today.
Everyone agrees the growth of mobile data will be huge, anywhere from 20-fold to 50-fold increases are being seriously discussed. Ninety-four percent expect the former and 24 percent the latter. And unanimously they say 4G and LTE alone fall far short of being able to make up the shortfall in capacity on their own. Twenty-three percent of operators say they will increase their capital expenditures by more than 20 percent to meet the need and half of them said they would spend 10 percent to 20 percent.
Wi-Fi will help, say 88 percent of operators who expect to have Wi-Fi as part of their mobile service by 2016. Twenty-two percent said they expect to have half their cell cites integrated with Wi-Fi by 2017.
Caroline Gabriel, research director at Rethink Technology Research, said that while small cells are a big part of meeting the challenge of what is generally believed to be an 18- to 20-fold increase in mobile data demand by boosting capacity in fixed locations, they pose a new problem. "The need to add millions of new cells has created a network planning bottleneck and service providers need to find smarter planning tools to speed the process," she said (Figure 2).