Forecast shows critical role of small cells in economic recovery
The Small Cell Forum (SCF) published its 2021 work program, detailing commercial and technical initiatives to expand the small cell ecosystem, address deployment barriers and evolve technologies to make secure mobile infrastructure accessible to organisations and communities of all sizes globally.
The work program is supported by the findings of SCF’s latest market status report, which identifies rising demand for new cellular services and use cases, particularly in the connected enterprise, community and industrial settings.
The report details how such opportunities and deployment scenarios will be supported by new types of service provider partnerships involving, amongst others, neutral hosts, private network operators and system integrators, in addition to traditional MNOs.
The report projects that, by 2026, as many as 30% of the installed base of outdoor small cell networks, and 71% of indoor enterprise systems, are likely to be operated by new entrants to the cellular segment. Not all will be new companies there will be incomers from the cloud, Wi-Fi, tower and enterprise/private network spaces, among others.
But there will also be increasing opportunities for innovative new players, such as neutral hosts, private network operators, city or enterprise specialists, who will favour flexible mobile infrastructure with end-to-end security offered by small cells.
Over the next 12 months SCF will continue to focus on the evolving role for small cells in the digital transformation of industry, enterprise and communities by working to ensure access to secure, scalable, low-cost and light touch mobile infrastructure. Its new program is focused on:
- Private networks and edge computing
- Neutral host requirements
- Planning, management and automation of small cell network operations
- APIs for 5G products and components, and split 6 open RAN networks
“In what has been a tumultuous year for the global economy, we have to recogniSe opportunities to reinvent and reinvigorate. Digital transformation not only improves process efficiencies to reduce costs and environmental impact, but also drives the pace of change,” says Prabhakar Chitrapu, chair of Small Cell Forum. “SCF believes that cellular connectivity, increasingly delivered by small cells, is a critical accelerant for this transformation.”
Sue Monahan, CEO of Small Cell Forum, adds, “This year’s Market Status report and forecast show that small cell networks are at a critical juncture, with rising demand for new cellular services and use cases, especially in enterprise and industrial sectors, which will deliver opportunities for many new deployment scenarios, with new services delivered by new providers.
There are important emerging enablers of this growth, such as shared spectrum, open interfaces and automation, and all these key enablers are being actively developed and promoted by SCF work items. SCF’s work program for the year ahead will focus on lowering barriers, increasing confidence and enabling new use cases and business opportunities.”
SCF 2021 work program
Over the past 12 months SCF has delivered an important body of work that the new program will build on. The year ahead focusses on: Private networks and edge; Neutral host requirements; Planning and automation; 5G products, components and networks.
- Small cells and private networks have a natural synergy and can benefit industries of all sizes. Similarly, Edge computing is emerging as a significant opportunity for both private networks and network operators and small cells are a perfect fit for the highly distributed edge cloud. SCF’s workplan unites market engagement with technology development to drive an industry standard approach to a common technology platform which can support vertical-specific requirements.
- Neutral host requirements are one of the most important areas of SCF work, now and in the future. Many networks rolled out to support a host of new enterprise or industrial 5G use cases will be based on small cells. Neutral host will offer the multi-operator connectivity that will make such networks cost-effective. The SCF work program will capture neutral host providers’ requirements for mobile infrastructure and ensure small cell technologies evolve to meet their expectations.
- Planning, management and automation are high on deployer’s list of factors impacting rollout and a busy area of technology development for SCF. To reach the holy grail of service-orientated and AI-enabled end-end automation, equipment management must first be harmonised. SCF is developing small cell centric models which are light weight and scalable and support feature needs from industrial and neutral host scenarios. Small cell siting is another top deployer concern, and SCF is looking at the application of machine learning to the planning process. Increased precision improves site utility and makes for more cost and energy efficient networks.
- A robust set of APIs to enable fully open, multi-vendor 5G small cell designs down to chip level was made available this year. It provides the foundation for a broad ecosystem of interoperable 5G components and products. In addition, a set of interface specifications for supporting virtualised small cells employing a MAC/PHY split, is now being evolved in the context of 5G, with a program focused on split option 6 open RAN development. The SCF work program will continue to maintain and evolve these specifications to give operators and business users access to maximum levels of innovation, vendor choice and cost efficiency.