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There is a growing operator interest in public access small cells, according to an Informa Telecoms & Media report. The analyst firm says small cells will outnumber macrocells globally during Q4 2012 and femtocells will outnumber macrocells by Q1 2013. In the public access market, SK Telecom has started rolling out LTE small cell deployment, while AT&T, Sprint and China Mobile have all committed to rolling out 3G small cell services.


AT&T and Sprint plan to launch later this year. Verizon Wireless plans to launch LTE public access small cells, while Sprint is planning to roll out its first LTE designs at the end of the year. These operators have chosen to proceed with public access services following their femtocell offerings.


The femtocell market was recently buoyed by the news that Telefónica plans to deploy the technology across its European and South American territories, while China Mobile has begun its rollout. Additionally, Sprint has accelerated its femtocell deployment to a total of 600,000 units – up from 250,000 units in 2011.


Femtocells constitute over 80% of the 4.6 million small cells currently deployed globally across the 41 operator deployments – compared to 5.6 million conventional macrocells. By the close of 2012, there will be 6.4 million small cells – 86% of which will be femtocells - thus outnumbering the predicted 6 million macrocells worldwide. Femtocells will alone outnumber all macrocells during Q1 2013.


“We are starting to see vendor-led public access small cell R&D turning into concrete operator deployment commitments. Over the past few months, numerous operators have announced 3G and LTE public access deployment plans. SK Telecom is leading the charge by already rolling out LTE devices,” says Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.


However, it is notable all the operators involved in the first wave of deployments have already rolled out femtocell services, so are accustomed to small cell challenges and how they can be overcome. “With major operator groups such as Telefónica and Telenor preparing widespread femtocell launches in the near future we can expect deployment numbers to quickly rise.”


The reason for growing interest in public access small cells is predominantly to provide additional capacity in busy metropolitan hotspots. This is demonstrated in a recent Small Cell Forum study which found that even a relatively conservative small cell deployment with 4 devices per macrocell would increase typical data rates by over 300% and offload 56% of data.


However, public access small cells could also have an impact in rural and developing markets. African operator RascomStar-QAF recently announced it is trialling the technology using satellite back-haul in the Congo – this follows ongoing trials by Vodafone UK and a rural deployment by SoftBank in Japan.

----Informa Telecoms & Media  

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