Survey Highlights Cable’s Big ‘Small Cell’ Opportunity

Cable operators are well positioned to produce a new revenue stream through partnerships that support the rollout of small cell networks designed to beef up the capacity of mobile networks in concentrated, high-traffic areas, a recent Amdocs/Real Wireless survey shows.

According to a survey of the survey of 40 national and large cable operators and mobile network operators (MNOs) in North America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific., about 70% of the MNOs are prepared to use small cell networks rolled out by or owned by a third party, such as a cable operator.

Of the mobile network operators surveyed, about 70% expect to have “significant” small cell deployments underway by 2018, though many predict a slow rollout due to several technical and operational challenges. MNOs surveyed identified several challenges that could hinder the speed of small cell rollouts, including project management (65%), negotiation with partners (45%), and “various technical aspects” (40%).

The survey also showed that 85% respondents viewed automation as critical or important for small cell deployment, and 80% said their existing processes and tools are inadequate.

MSOs, Amdocs and Real Wireless said, are “well placed” to overcome several challenges faced by MNOs as they pursue small cell strategies, citing cable’s expertise in the installation and maintenance of dense networks in the field. About 40% of the MSOs surveyed have plans to support small cell deployments this year.

“With mobile data traffic predicted to increase 11-fold from 2013-2018, small cells represent a critical element of an MNO’s strategy to expand mobile network capacity and improve the overall user experience, yet rollout challenges are causing small cell deployment delay,” said Charles Chambers, managing consultant with Real Wireless, in a statement. “The research has identified that there is a clear business case for MSOs to partner with MNOs. MSOs have valuable skills and experience that can be applied to small cell deployments and MNOs are looking for these skills. However, for small cell rollout to be successful it’s widely recognized that appropriate workflow and planning tools are required.”

Amdocs, of course, has reason to tout and cheer these findings as it looks for buyers of a Small Cell Solution introduced late last year that aids with the planning, engineering and deployment of small cell networks.

Amdocs and Real Wireless, an independent firm focused on wireless strategies and small cells, released the study at this week’s Cable Congress event in Amsterdam.

And that potential opportunity is not lost on the cable industry. Speaking at the Women In Cable Telecommunications (WICT) Rocky Mountain Tech It Out event last November, CableLabs EVP of research and development Tom Lookabaugh said the cable industry won’t be sitting on the sidelines.

 “We want to participate” in the small cell market, Lookabaugh said. “We have an opportunity to consolidate and offer wireless services more broadly…Playing in the small cell game is going to be big for us.”