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Mobile data surge drives popularity of unlicensed spectrum and small cell tech

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Findings from ABI Research have indicated more mobile operators are turning towards unlicensed spectrum and small cell technologies, to meet the growing demand for data.

Mobile data consumption has continued to increase over recent months, with some industry commentators claiming traffic has grown 60% between Q1 2015 and 2016, resulting in the search for alternative technologies to deliver a quality experience for customers. The ABI Research team estimate the growth in interest in small cell technologies could result in overall revenues hitting $1.8 billion in 2021.

Although these numbers could be considered impressive, there is quite a difference between ABI’s forecast and estimates from the Small Cell Forum itself. Speaking at Mobile World Congress this year, the forum believes the segment will be driven by enterprise adoption, propelling the market to a value of $6.7 billion by 2020. It also believes by the end of 2017, 60% of enterprises will have begun deployment.

“Unlicensed LTE had a rough start, meeting negative and sceptic reactions to its possible conflict with Wi-Fi operations in the 5 GHz bands,” said Ahmed Ali, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. “But the ongoing standardization and coexistence efforts increased the support in the technology ecosystem.”

For the LAA standard, the 3GPP adopted a Listen-Before-Talk channel access mechanism to share the spectrum fairly. The IEEE and WiFi Alliance are also developing a coexistence testing process to help stakeholders deliver a harmonized, multi-technology environment in the unlicensed spectrum. Wifi will continue to remain an important element of the indoor connectivity.

“The dynamic and diverse nature of indoor venues calls for an all-inclusive small cell network that intelligently adapts to different user requirements,” said Ali. “Support for multi-operation features like 3G/4G and Wi-Fi/LAA access is necessary for the enterprise market.”


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