Small cells outnumber cellular base stations

The global number of small cells now exceeds the total number of traditional mobile base stations, according to research published this week.

In its latest quarterly small-cell market status report,  Informa Telecoms & Media found that  between October and November 2012, the number of small cells set up globally surpassed six million while macrocells totaled 5,925,974.

The bulk of small cells, over 80 per cent, are residential femtocells, which will alone overtake the total number of macrocells early next year, the six million figure also included enterprise and public-access small cells. There are now 45 small-cell deployments including nine of the top ten operators by revenue globally Informa added.

Sprint, for example, has now deployed one million femtocells – up from 250,000 in 2011. Femtocell deployments from Telefónica O2, Orange UK, and Bouygues Telecom over the Summer mean that the UK and France have become the first countries in the world where all major operators have deployed small cells.

“The industry has passed a very important milestone and in the process changed the future direction of mobile networks,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“The days of small numbers of expensive cell towers have given way to the era of high numbers of low cost mini access points. Without this change, the mobile network simply could not sustain the continued growth in data usage.”

Mavrakis added that such a dramatic network transformation opens up interesting new models and over the past quarter the Small Cell as a Service concept has been gaining traction.

“It allows third parties to build networks that several mobile operators can use, thereby reducing costs and time to market,” he said. “At the moment, this is being targeted at major operators that are looking for a simple route to establishing a small-cell network as well as smaller players that have found the barriers to entry too high to date.”

Informa Telecoms & Media independently researched and produced the report for the Small Cell Forum.

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