Survey: DAS outpacing small cell wireless technologies

"Small cell is the buzz but DAS is the biz," indicates a recent survey of wireless operators conducted by Infonetics Research.

Infonetics Research has released excerpts from its Small Cell Coverage Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey, for which the firm interviewed wireless, incumbent, and competitive operators around the world about their small cell buildout plans.

“To the small cell vendors of the world, we know what you want to hear, but what you need to hear is that the small cell market simply isn’t going to explode as many are predicting,” cautions Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research.

Téral continues, “The reality is, a majority of operators are still using distributed antennas (DAS) in their mobile networks for coverage, and despite all the talk about using small cells to boost capacity in large venues, operators we interviewed believe DAS will remain a fundamental tool for malls, airports, stadiums and the like."

The survey's highlights include the following: 73% of the operators interviewed said they have already deployed small cells, mainly in homes and enterprises, indicating solid experience with femtocells. Of those that have deployed small cells, 3/4 have done so using the 1.5GHz–2.2GHz spectrum, the most common band across all geographic regions.

See also: The wireless connection: Mobile data and WLANs

The top drivers reported for deploying small cells are optimizing in-building coverage and high data usage areas, and non-expandability of the macro network. However, 80% of respondent operators said that they currently use DAS in their cellular networks for coverage optimization.

Survey respondents rated interference with the macro network as the number one barrier to deploying small cells. The highest-rated feature for public access small cells among operators interviewed was self-organizing network (SON) capabilities.

"Small cells are poised to play a major role in 3G and 4G network expansion, but operators are going to pick the right tool for their needs, be it coverage, capacity or both -- indoor, outdoor or both -- and small cells aren’t always the right solution," concludes Infonetics' Téral. "The bottom line is, small cells -- I’m not talking about residential femtocells here -- remain a tiny market compared to macrocells, and will take time to reach meaningful penetration.”

More information about the survey is available here.

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