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11 February, 2014 - 13:00 By News Desk

Operators must ride wave of small cell opportunity

ip.access CEO, Simon Brown

Small cell technology pioneer ip.access and influential analyst house Yankee Group have challenged mobile operators to change their thinking on small cell deployments and trigger a new wave of service-led installations.

Simon Brown, CEO of Cambridge UK-based ip.access, said operators had got it wrong – “they’re looking to plug network holes rather than build new services,” he claimed.

A new white paper for ip.access by Yankee Group says operators are missing out on lucrative new sources of revenue by failing to harness the potential of small cell deployment.

The study provides food for thought ahead of the Mobile World congress in Barcelona this month.

Brown said: “Our own diagnosis of the situation is now backed up by independent, in-depth research interviews. Too many operators are asking the wrong questions about small cells. They are looking to plug network holes rather than build new services.

“Operators should be looking to small cells to grow business, for example launching location or presence-based services, and providing improved voice and data service to business customers to lock them further into their network. However, that mindset requires a business-led approach to small cell planning and not an engineering-led one.”

The Yankee Group findings, published today in a white paper titled ‘Accelerating Enterprise Small Cells’ prepared for ip.access, are based on behind-the-scenes industry-wide soundings and a series of in-depth interviews with five leading mobile operators.

Yankee Group principal analyst, Ken Rehbehn, who conducted the interviews, highlighted how striking it was that every operator’s thinking on small cells was dominated by the traditional engineering view of coverage and voice reception.

“We were looking to see if the detailed operator feedback lined up with the experiences we were hearing from ip.access, and our own view of the market at the outset. If anything, the thinking we encountered was even more narrowly focused,” said Rehbehn.

“It seems, as far as small cells are concerned, RF engineers still drive deployment. The marketing and sales teams are largely unengaged, leaving the services potential of small cells trapped within tactically oriented RAN teams. Clearly, a major service opportunity is being ignored.”

Small cell take-up in the last few years has been accelerating and another surge is widely forecast, triggered by deployments of combined 3G/LTE small cells. However, the paper states that faster, targeted, deployment of indoor business and public access 3G small cells now could trigger new revenues and pave the way for continued, service-led, growth for the operator community.

“We are doing very good business at the moment and we also have some upcoming operator service contracts that reflect this new way of thinking,” said Simon Brown. “We see an opportunity to add value to the network that is much greater than is revealed by a simple coverage and capacity view of the world – and it can be delivered very cost-effectively.”

Brown explained that ip.access had developed a “business-case chaining” approach that was allowing its operator customers to build a service case for accelerating small cell deployment.

“Even if you initially trigger a small cell deployment for coverage and capacity reasons it means you have done the heavy lifting of integration and small-cell enabled your network.

“The incremental cost of adding additional cells and growing offerings for different subscriber groups thereafter is very, very much lower while the revenue opportunities are greater.”

Rehbehn agreed that the engineering voice still held sway within operators when it came to small cell policy. “It’s understandable,” he said, “because small cells have a coverage-filling heritage, but it’s outdated.

“Operators who still only look at the technology from that point of view are restricting themselves, restricting their service opportunities, and most importantly, restricting revenues.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: ip.access CEO, Simon Brown

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