A survey of 20 incumbent, independent wireless, competitive, and cable operators conducted by Infonetics Research reveals numerous challenges in the rollout of outdoor small cells, including:
- Operators are finding that outdoor small cell deployments are more expensive than anticipated: more respondents now expect the 5-year TCO ratio of a small cell deployment to be 25% of a typical macrocell deployment, up from 10% in Infonetics' 2012 survey
- There is a big opportunity for point-to-multipoint (P2MP) backhaul topology in dense urban areas, but there are only a few manufacturers shipping P2MP products today: BluWan, Cambridge Broadband, and Intracom
- 1/4 of operators surveyed indicated they will use software-defined networking (SDN) in outdoor small cell backhaul networks by 2016 or later
- Downstream bandwidth capacity is a top service-level agreement (SLA) metric for backhaul services supporting LTE and LTE-Advanced (LTE-A)
Infonetics is predicting that operators will spend $3.6 billion on outdoor small cell backhaul equipment over the five years from 2013 to 2017, down from earlier forecasts based on operator plans.
"2013 was supposed to be the year for greater deployments of outdoor small cells, but installations haven’t proceeded as quickly as operators expected. It’s no picnic out there for operators. Costs are higher than anticipated, and many challenges remain difficult to solve, including siting, jurisdictional issues, unsettled local regulations, power availability, copper and fiber availability, small cell packaging with or without backhaul, just-coming-available technologies and products, and backhaul connections. Not to mention the coordination of small cells with WiFi or nearby macrocells over new types of backhaul that must support strict timing, sync, and latency requirements for LTE and LTE-Advanced in the future,” explains Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst for carrier networks at Infonetics Research.