Operators resistant to shared small cell networks

Do we need shared small cell networks? It seems that resistance to small cell sharing comes not from vendors, who you might expect to be all in favour of multiple-operator small cell deployments, but from carriers.

Ken Riordan, head of Nokia Siemens Networks’ femtocell R&D, asked if the industry will need to develop solutions that enable multi-operator service from the same cell said that the attitude of most operators to shared small cell networks is, “we’re going to have nothing to do with that”.

“They say, ‘It’s my network, I want to have it entirely under my control’. There’s definitely a lot of attitude in the industry that they don’t want to share,” Riordan said.

One reason shared small cell networks have been proposed is the economics and delay of four operators all gaining sites and deploying backhaul for dense small cell deployments. But Jules Robson, Vice President of the backhaul SIG at the Small Cell Forum, said that there are in fact plenty of available assets (street furniture, buildings, lampposts etc.) on which to site small cell infrastructure, and operators don’t feel under pressure to share physical assets.

In terms of technology enablers, it seems some of the vendors are ready. Will Franks of Ubiquisys said that company has developments in software defined radio that would act as a key enabler of a shared small cell network. Gavin Ray of ip.access said taking advantage of virtualisation technology would enable virtualised gateways that could control and manage shared cells. He pointed out that the BYOD trend also meant that there is a need for shared in-building deployments.

More likely to drive any move to shared small cell networks is the economics – but it seems the Femto Forum is confident that small cells can be pretty profitable. New CEO Gordon Mansfield claimed that a small cell can generate profits of $50,000 per year for an operator in a developed market, even where backhaul is expensive.

In the next year the Forum will release similar papers on Enterprise and then Metrocells.

To continue to make the case for small cells, The Small Cell Forum plans a series of releases that will lay out to operators a “how to” guide for deployment, with business case rationales formed as a result of real world deployments.

Release One, focusing on residential femtocells is available now. In the next year the Forum will release similar papers on Enterprise and then Metrocells.