Small Cells: A Bright Spot in Dismal Wireless Infrastructure Market

Infonetics Research released excerpts from its 2nd quarter 2013 (2Q13) Residential and Enterprise Femtocell Equipment report, which tracks femtocells by market segment, technology, and form factor.


  • The global 2G/3G/4G residential and enterprise femtocell equipment market grew 4% sequentially in 1Q13, to $115 million, driven by LTE
  • Integrated femtocells are expected to account for nearly half of all femtocell units shipped in 2017, almost entirely within the residential segment
  • Infonetics forecasts FDD-LTE femtocells to grow at a 76% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2012 to 2017
  • Cisco, who recently acquired Ubiquisys, sprang to the top of the femtocell revenue share leaderboard in 2Q13, thanks also to its work with AT&T, who lays claim to the largest scale femtocell deployment in the world
  • Airvana dropped to the #2 spot overall, but moved into the lead in the 3G femtocell segment

“Sales of 3G femtocells still dominate the market, despite the focus of vendors on 4G,” notes Richard Webb, directing analyst for microwave and carrier WiFi at Infonetics Research. “Residential femtocells still account for the bulk of the market, though from this point forward we will see increasing adoption of femtocells from the enterprise segment, which is a key focus for a growing number of operators.”

Infonetics’ quarterly femtocell report provides worldwide and regional market size, vendor market share, forecasts through 2017, analysis, and trends for 2G (GSM/GPRS and CDMA), 3G (W-CDMA/HSPA, CDMA2000/EV-DO, and TD SCDMA), and 4G (LTE) femtocells. Femtocells are tracked by form factor (standalone and integrated) and market segment (residential and enterprise). Companies tracked include Airvana, Alcatel-Lucent, Argela, Cisco/, Contela, Fujitsu, Huawei, ip.access, NEC, QuCell, Samsung, Ubee Interactive, and others.

For more information on this report, contact Infonetics:

In a separate small cell survey, Infonetics interviewed wireless, incumbent, and competitive operators around the world about their small cell buildout plans.


  • 83% of respondent operators have deployed small cells, an increase of 11% from Infonetics’ 2012 survey
  • 78% of respondents rate “multimode” and “seamless integration with macrocellular networks” as very important small cell features
  • Small cell backhaul staged a comeback as a barrier to deploying small cells in this year’s survey, but overall barriers are waning with the exception of outdoor site acquisition, which remains challenging
  • Respondents don’t expect small cells to take the place of distributed antenna systems (DAS) anytime soon, instead viewing the technologies as complementary
  • New alternatives to small cells like Ericsson’s Radio Dot System hold the potential to reduce the need for DAS in very specific applications such as medium and large enterprises
  • A majority of survey respondents say they will definitely require self-organizing networks

“As evidenced by our latest small cell study, operators are seriously gearing up small cells for significant macrocellular network enhancements,” says Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research.

“Since service providers will be adding small cells to existing macro sites in very specific parts of their networks, there’s good reason to believe the total number of small cells will surpass that of macrocell sites, but definitely not by large proportions,” continues Téral. “Operators need to look at their spectrum resources and apply them as the need for capacity increases. This means selecting the right tool in the coverage and capacity toolbox.”

Read more at the ComSoc blog. 

From an article on another Infonetics report on Small Cells: 

Wireless network operators’ chief purpose for deploying small cells is to complement and enhance the macrocell layer from a capacity standpoint, to enrich the mobile broadband experience. Beginning in 2014, 4G metrocells will become the main growth engine in the small cell market, driven by in-building deployments in retail malls, stadiums, transportation stations, hotels, and event venues. Asia Pacific is where the action is and where it will stay through 2017: The largest macrocell network density, with more than 100,000-site footprints, can be found in China, Japan, and South Korea.

“The large service providers remain committed to their small cell deployment plans, but the pace of deployment is much slower than expected due to a sad reality: Small cell and macrocell rollouts share nothing in common,” explains Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research.  Téral continues: “Each technology requires its own internal business processes, which have been in place for decades with macrocells but have to be built from the ground up for small cells taking into consideration things like footfall, building dimensions, backhaul availability, and wireless technology. There is no cookie-cutter template for small cell deployments!”

Co-author of the report Richard Webb, directing analyst for microwave and carrier WiFi at Infonetics, adds: “Given that service providers are in the process of retooling their plan of attack, we’re not expecting the small cell ramp to happen in 2013.”

Read more at the ComSoc blog

Wireless Infrastructure Market Overview:

The global mobile network infrastructure business is in transition as the major equipment vendors reorganize. The manufacturers are eager to take advantage of the growth of mobile data, as consumers around the world shift away from making voice calls on their smartphones to accessing the Internet on phones and tablets.

Nokia now owns all of Nokia Siemens Networks, which had previously spun off its optical division. Alcatel-Lucent is also revamping, having announced this month that it would cut 10,000 jobs, or 14 percent of its global work force. Alcatel-Lucent wants to increase its profitability after several years of declining growth.

Ericsson today reported 3Q-2013 earnings that were less than the consenus forecast. More importantly, revenue fell 3 percent, to 52.9 billion kroner, also below analysts’ average estimate, of 54.3 billion kroner.

The Stockholm-based manufacturer of wireless telecommunications infrastructure (the world’s largest), is struggling in an increasingly competitive environment and has cuts thousands of jobs in Sweden over the past year to slash costs. Ericsson holds about a 35 percent global market share in the wireless network infrastructure used by carriers like Verizon Wireless and China Mobile.

Several European carriers- like Telefónica d’Espagne and Telecom Italia- are struggling to reduce their debt burdens and have put off infrastructure upgrades to their mobile networks. One bright spot in Europe is the UK carrier Vodafone which is a big Ericsson customer. The company announced in September that it would invest £6 billion, or $9.7 billion in its wireless networks after it sold its stake in Verizon Wireless to Verizon Communications (its partner in VZW) for $130 billion.

In the U.S., AT&T continues to build out it’s LTE network footprint in the U.S., which lags far behind Verizon’s which is available in over 500 cities. AT&T claims it has the fastest and most reliable LTE network.

Verizon disputes those claims and asserts that it has the most reliable LTE network PERIOD.

Sprint’s 4G roll-out is also progressing as per its Network Vision program.

But the real action in wireless network deployment is probably in China.  The country restructured its telecoms operator to create three fixed/wireless carriers and this change has stimulated growth along with the much delayed auctions of 3G spectrum. China Mobile is the market leader but in 3G, is seeing its lead squeezed by its rivals, partly because it was forced to use the home-grown technology, TD-SCDMA, which has limited ecosystem.

The second player is China Unicom, which uses W-CDMA and is forming partnerships with operators outside China, such as Telefonica. China Mobile is also outward looking and forming strategic alliances, notably with Vodafone and Verizon, which will help spur its plans to move quickly to the TD-LTE standard for 4G services.

The third cellco is China Telecom, which focuses on the CDMA platform. China is also becoming a key country on the vendor side, with Huawei challenging Ericsson for leadership of the infrastructure business and ZTE growing rapidly in handsets. These suppliers are helping China in its goal of becoming more self-sufficient in technology and patents.

0 thoughts on “Small Cells: A Bright Spot in Dismal Wireless Infrastructure Market

  1. Thanks Alan for the summary. As evidence of what this article suggests, one superficial impression of mine from this week’s SCTE (Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers) Expo in Atlanta, is that wireless in the form of outdoor WiFi and, to some extent LTE/Cellular backhaul, is a big topic. That is using the cable plant as backhaul for the thousand of small cells that will be needed to meet data demands. In the words of CableLabs’ Dr. Tom Lookabaugh, “Wireless needs dense wired network for small cell deployment.”

    Also, the MSOs are serious about WiFi according to an old friend at a major cable operator. He indicates that they have deployed 35k WiFi hot spots and they are aggressively rolling out new ones all the time. With their roaming agreement with other MSOs, that number jumps to the hundreds of thousands.

    1. Ken, Thanks for your comment. You bring up 2 important issues:

      1. Astonishingly, I don’t hear wireless backhaul talked about much anymore, even with the need for more of it from small cells. Not even one mention at the Telecom Council summit last month!

      2. I believe the MSOs have been serious about WiFi hot spots for some time. Hotspot 2.0 technology could simplify Wi-Fi roaming.
      “We believe the inexorable current below the surface is that cable will enter the wireless market in a disruptive, Wi-Fi/MVNO [Mobile Virtual Network Operator] manner in the foreseeable future.”

  2. It’s incredible that the wireless infrastructure market is terrible considering that wireless telcos must upgrade their networks – both access and backhaul- to provide sufficient capacity for exponential growth in mobile data traffic.
    Yet most wireless network infrastructure companies continue to struggle with declining revenues. The exception might be Huawei and niche vendors, e.g. carrier WiFi, backhaul, or fixed wireless specialty equipment. It’s a conundrum to me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.