The number of installed small-cell base stations, which grew to 2.2 million in 2011, is poised to jump to 14 million by 2016. That's according to a new report from Berg Insight.
The research firm says small cells will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 45 percent over the next four years.
Small cells encompass a range of low-power cellular base stations including femtocells, picocells and microcells with gradually higher output power and capacity in terms of simultaneous users. Small cells are designed to complement the base stations forming the cellular macro network by providing enhancements in coverage and capacity in locations such as homes, offices and public venues.
“Total mobile data traffic in cellular networks have more than doubled every year since 2007 and is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 60 percent from 2011 until 2016," said André Malm, senior analyst, Berg Insight. He adds that mobile operators need to use a combination of approaches to meet the rising demand for data traffic, including acquiring more spectrum, using increasingly advanced radio air interfaces, making the macro layer denser by installing more base stations in traffic hotspots, as well as introducing heterogeneous networks (HetNets). HetNets are composed of multiple radio access technologies, architectures, backhaul solutions and base stations of varying transmission power.
Using Wi-Fi technology that relies on unlicensed spectrum is an increasingly attractive option for mobile operators, Berg said. Virtually all new smartphones now have Wi-Fi connectivity as standard and a majority of smartphone owners use Wi-Fi at home. However, using Wi-Fi in smartphones to access public hotspots can often be difficult. Mobile operators can facilitate Wi-Fi offloading by introducing connectivity management software that identifies Wi-Fi hotspots and authenticates the user automatically.
“The user experience will soon improve as new standardisation and interoperability efforts aim to make the network selection and user identification process seamless," said Malm.