5G drives surging demand for small cells

Market news |
By Nick Flaherty

The latest market forecast report by the Small Cell Forum confirms the continuing growth of the small cell market, with 5G driving new deployments, particularly in industrial and enterprise settings.

This is forecast to be accelerated by increasing access to new spectrum and open architectures, both of which will facilitate new deployers and business models. The emergence of simple, scalable, and repeatable deployment processes supports a rapid increase in small cell deployment, especially enterprise small cells, by MNOs, new deployers such as Private Network Operators (PNO), Neutral Hosts and Augmented TowerCos.

There are a rising number of industrial applications that require full 5G capabilities such as high availability, and these will accelerate adoption of 5G small cells, with a CAGR of 77% in 2019-2026. Deployments in shared spectrum will overtake those in licensed bands in 2025.

As small cells need to address increasingly diverse requirements from different industries and use cases, flexible, cloud-based architectures will become essential. Two-thirds of deployers expect to adopt small cell vRAN by 2025. One driver of vRAN expansion will be open small cell architectures. These will account for 77% of new deployments in 2026. There will be strong support for SCF’s Split 6 in the enterprise and industrial environments, where it will be adopted by 58% of deployers by 2024.

The forecast shows clearly the impact of rising 5G adoption, often enabled by availability of new spectrum. Some of this spectrum is the result of auctions that are now gathering pace after Covid-related delays in 2020. However, some is a result of more flexible licensing regimes, including spectrum sharing, that will facilitate enterprise, rural and urban deployments by non-MNO providers, and increase the overall pace of build-out.

“While the turbulence of the last 18 months has had an effect on deployments, this forecast continues to show not just the crucial role small cells will play in facilitating a 5G future, but also how important new breeds of network deployers will be to delivering it. SCF champions a diverse mix of service providers, operators and vendors, and we are committed to aligning technical requirements and driving global standards, technologies and legislation which can make deployments faster and more affordable,” said Prabhakar Chitrapu, Chair, Small Cell Forum.

Caroline Gabriel, SCF Content Director, says: “Our research has shown that increasing diversity of the services small cell networks will support, the environments they are deployed in, and the organizations that build and manage them, will help to accelerate deployment throughout the 2020s, and especially as we move away from the pandemic. It also has a profound impact on the whole supply chain, as the requirements for design and performance of small cells also become diversified to support these different business cases.”

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