Carrier Wi-Fi gear shipments to rise 84 percent this year, says Ovum

Small cell market unlikely to support the current number of vendors

Carrier Wi-Fi equipment shipments are expected to increase by 84 percent this year and continue double-digit growth through 2017, predicts Ovum research.

Ovum said that Wi-Fi should be considered a small cell, as infrastructure vendors are incorporating Wi-Fi support into their heterogeneous network strategies.

"The majority of interest in the small cell market today is surrounding the capacity gains of small cells being deployed in a heterogeneous network. The reasons for this are very clear: as mobile traffic continues to grow, the economics of deploying more macrocells to meet this traffic growth do not add up long term. Small cells promise to provide much-needed capacity injections at a lower cost," said Daryl Schoolar, principal analyst for network infrastructure telecoms at Ovum.

Schoolar warned about the current assessments of small cell market opportunities, because they ignore key factors such as whether the market can support all of the vendors pursuing small cell opportunities.

Ovum recommends network sharing for mobile operators when physically deploying small cells. "Not only will it be difficult for multiple operators to deploy 100+ small cells in a given city, governments could even legislate sharing to avoid excessive cluttering," advised Schoolar.

Infonetics Research agrees with Ovum that there are challenges in the small cell market.

"Let's say an operator has thousands of small cells; how do you manage them all? How do you backhaul them?," asked Stephane Teral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics.

"When we talk to carriers, backhaul is always the biggest issue. And then of course they have to get interference under control. Don't get me wrong; there is no question that a small cell market exists and it is growing fast. But the volumes will not be high enough to support the number of vendors trying to get into the small cell space," he said.

Still, Infonetics is projecting strong growth in the small cell market. The research firm is estimating that the number of small cell units sold will grow nearly 40-fold from 2011 to 2016.

As long as the demand for mobile broadband and 4G deployments increases, the demand for small cells to handle the additional network load will increase.

For more:
- check out Ovum's blog
- see Infonetics Research's release

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