The Trouble with Being ‘Early’ to the Small Cell Market

Ed Gubbins
Ed Gubbins

Summary Bullets:

  • The small-cell market has taken longer to take off than many anticipated.
  • This dynamic requires vendors to think a bit differently about what it means to be ‘early’ or ‘late.’

You don’t want to be late to market, do you? Of course not. Equipment vendors often get criticized for being late to market, sometimes by me. Where small cells are concerned, however, what it means to be ‘late to market’ is a bit more complicated.

We’ve pointed out before that the small-cell market – which was slower to take off than a lot of folks anticipated – has at times punished early movers. Vendors’ best plans have been frustrated when operators weren’t ready to roll out small cells or when operators simply changed their minds about certain solution requirements. Almost every major vendor that was talking about small cells in early 2012 was telling a very different story in early 2014. Small-cell backhaul vendors have had it particularly rough, as many of them are smaller companies and have had to find creative ways to conserve cash while they wait for the market to pick up.

I was reminded of this dynamic recently, when Alcatel-Lucent announced new small-cell backhaul solutions that give operators a common management system for both its own small-cell base stations and the small-cell backhaul products supplied by its partners, Radwin and Siklu.

You may recall that Alcatel-Lucent was early to announce small-cell backhaul partners. However, the partners it initially announced weren’t Radwin and Siklu, but Radwin, Sub10 and BridgeWave. So what happened? Alcatel-Lucent hasn’t specifically announced a change of partners in this area, but it certainly appears as if a change has taken place.

This makes sense in some respects: Siklu provides a single source for both V-band and E-band solutions. (Sub10 had used an unnamed third party’s product for E-band.) And at a time when small-cell backhaul players have generally been quietly waiting for the market to heat up, Siklu has been relatively aggressive: diversifying its approach, targeting non-small-cell applications and announcing wins with wholesalers and others.

It’s also a fair illustration of the notion that the way to take advantage of early moves in the small-cell space is to apply what you learn in order to stay ahead of the rapid changes that characterize the space. The story you tell next year may be different from the story you tell today. You may find yourself ‘too early’ for some operators. Just make sure you’re not too late to adapt.

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