Small Cells and 5G @ Mobile World Congress 2018

By Georgie Mailer-Howat, Head of Content, Avren Events

Once again, small cells are being tipped for great things in the coming months. But this time if feels different - it seems to be real. We've seen real traction with enterprise deployments, towercos interest is gathering pace and operators have started to put their money where their mouths are. Most notably the Asian and US operators have ramped things up, and if Sprint's struggle to match supply with demand is the shape of things to come then there's surely a compelling business model to back it?!

Some argue there isn’t enough pain being experienced yet by the operators especially those in Europe, which is why they've been reluctant to start scaling up deployments. But data demand and network pressure isn't going to go away, and given just how dense 5G networks are going to have to be, small cells are going to be the most effective and efficient way to do that.


1. Cities will be the first places to deploy at scale

Much of the focus seems to be on cities as the most commercially viable and engaged setting for small cells and next generation connectivity deployments. They’re a hotbed of desirable infrastructure, regulatory changes, public demand and enterprise partnerships.

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2. Europe is falling behind

How realistic is the EC's target to have "at least one major city in every member state with fully commercial 5G running by 2020"? There was little movement to address issues on spectrum fragmentation, allocation and sharing across Europe, despite many operators taking the initiative to drive their own developments forward. When will we get the European version of CBRS?! And the operators competing to be the first to 5G?!

3. There are significantly more turn-key and end-to-end solutions

Many of the previously single solution vendors are adapting their business offerings in order to take a bigger slice of the 5G pie and create a more compelling turnkey solution for the enterprise.

4. We're going to need a bigger backhaul...

This feels like something that is being slightly overlooked with all this talk of network densification - how are we going to backhaul all these newly deployed small cells? From satellite to dark fiber, to new spectrum and using existing infrastructure, there seem to be a range of options but little cohesion in terms of how the industry might address this challenge.

Sure, some aspects of this year's Mobile World Congress felt a bit "Groundhog Day", but there were also some exciting indicators that the ultra-connected, 5G future was well and truly on its way, with some of the challenges being grappled with. It's no longer just the bellwether vendors seeing small cells and network densification as a commercial opportunity, but the operator, enterprise, infrastructure and towerco communities also gearing up for change and investment.