Surging small cell demand driven by 5G

July 01, 2021 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Surging small cell demand driven by 5G
Report predicts industry to have deployed 35.7 million radio units by 2026 with impact of 5G, adoption of new network architectures, and rise of network sharing and neutral host accelerating deployments as pandemic eases.

The latest market forecast report by the Small Cell Forum confirms the continuing growth of the small cell market, with 5G driving new deployments, particularly in industrial and enterprise settings. This is forecast to be accelerated by increasing access to new spectrum and open architectures, both of which will facilitate new deployers and business models. The emergence of simple, scalable, and repeatable deployment processes supports a rapid increase in small cell deployment, especially enterprise small cells, by MNOs, new deployers such as Private Network Operators (PNO), Neutral Hosts and Augmented TowerCos.

Key highlights of the report include:

  • There are a rising number of industrial applications that require full 5G capabilities such as high availability, and these will accelerate adoption of 5G small cells, with a CAGR of 77% in 2019-2026.
  • Access to a wider variety of spectrum, with more flexible licensing, will be the most important enabler of enterprise small cell roll-out in the early 2020s. Deployments in shared spectrum will overtake those in licensed bands in 2025.
  • As small cells need to address increasingly diverse requirements from different industries and use cases, flexible, cloud-based architectures will become essential. Two-thirds of deployers expect to adopt small cell vRAN by 2025.
  • One driver of vRAN expansion will be open small cell architectures. These will account for 77% of new deployments in 2026. There will be strong support for SCF’s Split 6 in the enterprise and industrial environments, where it will be adopted by 58% of deployers by 2024.
  • The trend for rising diversity of small cell deployers and business models will intensify as enterprise demand grows, and by 2026, over three-quarters of enterprise small cells will be deployed and operated by private network operators or neutral hosts.

The forecast shows clearly the impact of rising 5G adoption, often enabled by availability of new spectrum. Some of this spectrum is the result of auctions that are now gathering pace after Covid-related delays in 2020. However, some is a result of more flexible licensing regimes, including spectrum sharing, that will facilitate enterprise, rural and urban deployments by non-MNO providers, and increase the overall pace of build-out.


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