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

The 5G Migration That’s Already Happening: RAN Vendors Launching 5G-Era Base Stations

Ed Gubbins – Senior Analyst, Mobile Access Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • New base station introductions in the run-up to 5G pose challenges depending on both their timing relative to competitors’ moves and their messaging relative to legacy products.
  • All major RAN vendors have faced challenges unveiling new base stations recently, including Huawei, which was forced to make big changes in response to shifting market demands.

Everywhere you look, people are talking about the coming migration to 5G mobile networks. A much less talked about – but perhaps no less challenging – transition is the one radio access network (RAN) equipment vendors are making from base stations that were optimized for LTE to ones designed to lead operators into the 5G era. Yet, in the waiting period before 5G’s true arrival, marketing new base stations aimed at future networks alongside the current generation of base stations is a balancing act akin to stepping from an unmoored boat to a pier. Read more of this post

Cellular IoT: Understanding the “Value” of NB-IoT or LTE-M Key to Operator Success?

John Byrne

John Byrne – Service Director, Service Provider Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

• NB-IoT and LTE-M deployments are proliferating. Proofs of concept abound, but neither technology appears to be generating significant momentum yet.

• Regardless of the technology, moving beyond connectivity is vital to mobile operator success in IoT.

In the past six months, cellular operators worldwide have been rapidly deploying narrowband (NB)-IoT and LTE-M. In June, the GSMA announced the success of its Mobile IoT Initiative, claiming nearly 75 operators deploying NB-IoT or Cat-M and 500 members in its Mobile IoT Innovators initiative designed to help operators add IoT value. The bulk of this focus has been on NB-IoT, which cellular operators are using to establish new use cases, including smart agriculture and a variety of smart cities applications involving lighting, parking meters, smart buildings and the like. For example, T-Mobile USA completed live NB-IoT smart city trials in July 2017 in advance of a planned national launch.

Read more of this post

NFV MANO – Entering Yet Another Bout of Turbulence

David Snow – Principal Analyst, IP Services Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • Turbulence in the NFV MANO market is high; that can be good to shakeout problems, but it also makes for an uncomfortable flight.
  • Some operators have decided to take matters into their own hands; others are engaging a trusted vendor to “just make it work”.

As with any long haul flight, the risk of experiencing periods of turbulence is ever present.  The flight metaphor is also appropriate to long haul telecom network transformation projects, and NFV is certainly the largest to be navigated by the industry in the past 20 years. The NFV management and network orchestration (MANO) architectural block is a good indicator of the “flight status” of the whole NFV project, which now seems to be entering a new phase of turbulence. A couple of recent announcements have highlighted some major, and sometimes forgotten, basics: 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