Do Small-Cell Vendors Have WiFi Deployment Envy?

Ed Gubbins
Ed Gubbins

Summary Bullets:

  • Enterprises are likely to base small-cell deployment expectations on the ease of WiFi AP intalls.
  • Vendors may approach this issue differently based on their services-business strategies.

“Base stations are deployed by RF engineers. WiFi is deployed by interior decorators.”

I don’t know who said that first; I know I heard it first from Teclo Networks’ Jane Walerud.

In any case, the distinction expressed in that quote comes up a lot these days in discussions about deploying small cells, especially since small cells often double as WiFi APs and, in some cases, even plug into existing APs. The tasks of RF engineering and interior decorating are increasingly falling upon the same people. Much has been said about the challenges of deploying small cells outdoors. When it comes to deploying them indoors, folks in the WiFi world, who are generally more accustomed to indoor environments, could offer some advice. That advice is: Whether you are trying to penetrate homes or businesses, if you’re trying to deploy small cells indoors, they need to be very easy to deploy. This is partly because even enterprise IT folks have been spoiled by the ease of deploying WiFi. Small cells can’t help but be compared to their more easy-going cousin.

Some small-cell vendors seem to agree with this. These vendors tout their enterprise small cells as something any yahoo can deploy, which switches on and connects to a larger intelligence in the cloud, which configures and optimizes it. Others promote their outdoor small cells as easy enough to install that it can be done by the same workers who change light bulbs on billboards. And we know residential femtocells aren’t installed by RF engineers. At the same time, some other small-cell vendors have a different approach: They offer sophisticated tools for planning and optimizing enterprise small-cell deployment and seasoned professionals who know permitting requirements by heart and have perfected streamlined site-acquisition processes – all of which implies that this whole endeavor requires a lot of intelligence and expertise.

One way to predict which of these camps a small-cell vendor will fall into – the camp that advises just throwing small cells out there like Rip Taylor with confetti and the camp that offers to take on the complexity for you – is to look at how important each vendor’s services business is to them and what portion of their overall revenue comes from services. Vendors in the first camp need to make sure that deployment isn’t more complicated than they think it is, and vendors in that second camp should be careful that they’re not allowing their traditional services-business practices to lead them toward applying too much of a macrocell mindset to the small-cell game. As for you, you probably stopped reading when you clicked on that link to the Rip Taylor video. I wonder if he had an interior decorator.

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