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Stéphane Téral
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Small cell market to hit 3 million units in 2016, driven by urban area capacity upgrades


Campbell, CALIFORNIA, March 27, 2012—Market research firm Infonetics Research today released excerpts from its new Small Cell Equipment market size and forecast report. The first-of-its-kind report tracks small cells in the context of low power mobile network nodes known as microcells, picocells, and femtocells (public space, not residential) made by the "Big 5" RAN vendors -- Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia Siemens Networks, and ZTE – as well as small cell specialists like ip.access, Contela, Juni, Minieum Networks, Ubiquisys, and others.


"While small cells, including microcells and picocells, have been used for the past two decades to improve voice coverage, now mobile broadband is shifting the game to capacity upgrades," notes Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research. "Therefore, the chief objective is to complement and enhance the macrocell layer from a capacity standpoint with a new breed of low-power nodes like public space femtocells and WiFi. But dividing the macro layers into smaller cells remains challenging due to inter-cell interference and backhaul issues. The question is: how small can the cell be? Because the smaller the cell, the higher the number of units required to cover an area, and that will determine the true size of the small cell market."

Principal analyst and Infonetics co-founder Michael Howard adds: "Our small cell forecast is not a pie-in-the-sky, new-technology-honeymoon forecast based on futuristic 2020 technology visions of small cells on every city block. We developed our forecasts after a solid year of work by several Infonetics analysts and our research team with mobile operators, manufacturers, and chip suppliers. We examined, discussed, challenged, and listened—often on multiple occasions—to the major footprint operators to learn about their thinking, planning, testing, and trialing across their realities of today's operations, budgets, target small cell pricing, sizing and form-factor requirements, emerging technology issues, location-sensitive pico-to-macrocell ratios, and small cell layer automation and coordination with the macro layer. And in all of this, we explored with them what they think is realistic over the next few years."


  • Infonetics forecasts the global small cell market to grow rapidly, with about 3 million small cells shipping and the market worth about $2.1 billion in 2016
  • Small cell market growth is being driven by operators seeking to enhance saturated macrocellular networks that are currently struggling to maintain a decent mobile broadband experience for subscribers
  • For the next 3 years or so, most operators are planning small cells only in the urban core
  • Infonetics expects public space femtocells to make up more than 50% of all small cells shipped in 2012
  • In 2013, Infonetics expects 3G small cells to make up 63% of global small cell shipments, with 4G small cells kicking off and ramping up rapidly to make up 37%
  • 4G small cell shipments will overtake 3G small cells by 2015
  • From a geographic perspective, early femtocell adopters such as AT&T, Softbank, and Vodafone and macro network density dictate which regions represent the largest small cell opportunities, with Asia Pacific expected to lead with 44% of all units shipped in 2012, followed by EMEA with 32%


Infonetics’ new biannual Small Cell Equipment report provides worldwide and regional market size, forecasts, and market analysis for 3G microcells, picocells, and public space femtocells (W-CDMA/HSPA and CDMA2000/EV-DO) and 4G (LTE) FDD and TDD mini eNodeBs and public space femtocells. The 22-page analysis report that accompanies the customizable Excel report includes in-depth analysis and data charts, a Mobile Operator Small Cell Strategies Tracker, Customer Wins and Service Provider and Vendor Announcements, and a Small Cell Specifications Comparison. Vendors whose small cell solutions are tracked in the report include Airvana, Airwalk, Alcatel-Lucent, BelAir, Cisco, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, ip.access Motorola, NEC, Nokia Siemens Networks, Samsung, Thomson, Ubiquisys, UTStarcom, ZTE, ZyXEL, and others.



Download Infonetics report highlights, prospectuses, etc. at (see SMALL CELLS AND WIFI OFFLOAD).


Infonetics continues to expand rapidly and is looking to hire more analysts. See for current job openings, which include a senior Video analyst and market analysts with enterprise VoIP expertise.


Infonetics Research ( is an international market research and consulting firm serving the communications industry since 1990. A leader in defining and tracking emerging and established technologies in all world regions, Infonetics helps clients plan, strategize, and compete more effectively.

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"Small cell market growth is driven by operators seeking to enhance saturated macrocellular networks that are currently struggling to maintain a decent mobile broadband experience for subscribers."

Stéphane Téral, Principal Analyst
Mobile Infrastructure & Carrier Economics


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