Small Cells: What the Small Cell Forum’s New Board Tells Us About the Market

Peter Jarich

Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

• This week, the Small Cell Forum announced a set of new members as well as a newly elected Board.

• A shifting Board composition focused on service providers vs. vendors is a good sign, particularly the presence of tower and in-building deployment specialists; ultimately, they’re the companies who will be deploying small cells – or not.

When the Small Cell Forum announced new members and a newly elected Board, the news could easily have been ignored or seen as nothing more than “business as usual.” After all, a new Board is elected every year, and considering the various parts of the network that small cells touch, it’s only natural for a wide array of companies to be involved in the Forum’s activities.

But looking to the composition of the new Board tells an important story.

Broadly, the companies on the Board can be divided into three groups:

• Vendors that develop small cells and supporting network gear.

• Supporters – like Qualcomm and Node-H – that provide software and silicon components powering small cell technologies and services.

• Service providers delivering wireless services out to consumers and enterprises as well as those in the deployment services and siting business.

And, when looking at the composition of the 2016 vs. 2017 Board, a handful of encouraging facts emerge.

Better Balance. With 60% of the Small Cell Forum board composed of vendors last year, it was clearly over-weighted. You could argue that this is only logical since small cell vendors have the best understanding of the technologies at play and have the greatest exposure to diverse customer demands. Circa 2017, however, a more balanced set of board members promises to help in capturing a more diverse set of market views and requirements in guiding the work of the Forum.

Balance Where it Matters. Where the composition of the board shifted dramatically is on the service provider front. Small cell vendors will have their own agendas, but service providers will always be closer to market demands and the ways in which small cells will get deployed.

The SPs that Matter. The definition of “service provider” here extends beyond carriers who deliver services out to consumer or enterprise end-users. The category also includes companies who deploy small cells for carriers – and they constitute 50% of the service providers on the Forum’s Board. Why is that important? Small cell technology is still evolving, but is fairly mature; the technology isn’t a check on market growth. But deployment dynamics – the time, cost and effort to get small cells deployed – could be. Whether indoors or out, they factor into the small cell RoI. To be sure, SPs like AT&T, Reliance Jio and Softbank understand those dynamics. But, if carrier-neutral deployments are seen as important to moving the market forward, a different set of services providers need to be included. Service providers like American Tower, Crown Castle and Extenet.

It would be naïve to think that an evolution of the Small Cell Forum’s Board would lead to massive new market growth. But, if the Forum’s leadership is meant to reflect the state of the industry and include the companies who understand its issues, the evolution of the Board is a good sign, highlighting shifts in the industry and signaling that the Forum is responding.

CBRS: How Much Does Priority Access Matter?

Peter Jarich

Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • Ongoing questions around CBRS priority access license (PAL) terms suggest that licenses won’t likely be available until a year from now.
  • Without priority access, CBRS will still roll out; many use cases don’t require it. However, the sooner PAL terms are decided on and licenses auctioned, the better it will be for driving the industry forward.

Combining insatiable spectrum demands, an interest in targeting enterprises with wireless technology (from vendors and services providers), and imminent commercialization, there was little doubt that CBRS would be a hot topic at the GSMA’s inaugural Mobile World Congress Americas event. Read more of this post

“Use Case Based Marketing:” Passive Aggressive (Yet Defensive) Competitive Messaging?

Peter Jarich

Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:                 

  • The concept of marketing new technologies or solutions around use cases seems like a logical way to link deployment to real world carrier requirements and opportunities.
  • Use case marketing is also a not-so-subtle way to suggest that competitor messaging is based on hype more than reality, in the process flagging areas where a vendor potentially sees itself at a perceived competitive disadvantage it needs to counter.

Last week, Nokia held an analyst summit dedicated to its Fixed Broadband business.  One of the most anticipated topics was the discussion around software-defined access.  Beyond the fact that software-defined anything is buzzworthy,  going quiet on a hot, new (or new-ish) technology is a recipe for ceding mind share and giving customers a reason to listen to your rivals. Read more of this post

A Tale of Two Stocks: Ericsson and ZTE

Peter Jarich

Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • Over the past year, the stock performance of ZTE and Ericsson has diverged, with ZTE’s share price up almost 60% over a year ago and Ericsson down almost 20%.
  • With Ericsson being a traditional telecom networking leader and ZTE just outside the top three players in the market, their stock performance tells a broader story about the market’s view of telecom and market concentration.

Earlier this week, Verdict posted a ‘Research Wire’ comparing the stock performance of Ericsson and ZTE over the past year. The exercise was a relatively straightforward one. Where Ericsson had traditionally been the top player in the telecom networking space for many years, ZTE has struggled to break into the top three. More recently, Ericsson has suffered from sales declines and disruptive corporate re-organizations, while ZTE has been forced to pay over $1 billion in sanctions in the U.S., as well as reportedly laying off 3,000 employees. Read more of this post

Accelerating 5G: Leveraging IoT to Create Digital Industries

Peter Jarich

Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • While the core use cases for 5G are well understood (enhanced mobile broadband, massive IoT, mission critical communications), it’s important to remember that a core objective of those use cases is enabling digital industries – helping service providers target vertical markets and not just broad swaths of consumers and enterprises.
  • Initial 5G specifications may be focused on enabling enhanced mobile broadband, but we’re already seeing how digital transformation will unfold thanks to LTE technologies like Cat-M and NB-IoT.

Today’s discussions of 5G, more often than not, focus on the core use cases promised by the technology and the new services they will enable.  Where early messaging scrambled to define 5G objectives broadly, narrowing them down is a welcome development, if only to ensure a common understanding of what 5G will focus on: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive IoT (massive machine type communications – MTC), mission-critical communications (ultra-reliable low-latency communications, URLLC). Read more of this post

Accelerating 5G: Unleashing New Spectrum via Sharing

Peter Jarich

Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:                 

  • In the run-up to 5G launches, new shared and unlicensed spectrum usage is helping to open up new business models for mobile operators.
  • Beyond the development of technologies like LTE-U, LAA, CBRS and MulteFire, development of the ecosystems around those technologies and examples of how they can be commercially put to use will drive their success.

To date, most commercial, mobile wireless services have been built on a foundation of licensed spectrum.  Going forward, 5G won’t change that.

Where the next generation of wireless technology requires a massive technology investment, mobile operators will want the network quality and availability assurances (not to mention competitive advantages) that licensed spectrum delivers.  5G will, however, bring an understanding that new spectrum access regimes are required that are tailored to the availability of spectrum, tailored to the requirements of the digital industries being targeted, and tailored to the opportunity to improve the efficiency of spectrum usage in unlicensed and shared spectrum bands.  Read more of this post

Accelerating 5G: Taking Gigabit LTE to the Masses

Peter Jarich

Peter Jarich – VP, Consumer Services and Service Provider Infrastructure

Gigabit LTE (LTE networks, services and devices supporting theoretical peak speeds of a Gigabit or more) has been a big part of 5G discussions in 2017.  But it’s also – as the name implies – an evolution of LTE.  3GPP R13 LTE-Advanced Pro, to be specific.

It’s fair to ask, then, what’s the link to 5G?

While it would be technically inaccurate to position Gigabit LTE as a 5G technology, there’s no denying that it will support 5G rollouts and services.  As 5G rolls out in targeted pockets, Gigabit LTE will ensure consistent network-wide user experiences.  Likewise, as service providers investigate the specific IoT and broadband use cases 5G will support, Gigabit LTE will help them understand the options and opportunities ahead of them not to mention fundamental 5G technologies that start getting introduced into the network with Gigabit LTE.    Read more of this post