According to a Morgan Stanley report dated October 23, 2012 (Telecom Services 3Q12 Tower Preview: Site Leasing Activity May Be The Strongest Yet), analysts, Simon Flannery and Armintas Sinkevicius noted that "[w]e believe that wireless networks will inevitably move in the direction of small cells in the medium-term. This does not mean that they will replace the current macro cell infrastructure, but rather see the two as complimentary."
The major concerns noted in the report with respect to small cells were: (1) developing an attractive business model, (2) the role of the tower operators, and (3) technology risk:
The report noted that, one problem is that "operators have not found the collocation opportunities that make the tower model attractive, and would prefer a more defined cost structure. Currently, either carriers may share in the cost of deployment to obtain a lower rental rate, or the operator bears the full cost of deployment. An additional problem is that there "are reports that the carriers have a preference to build out their own DAS network rather than to relinquish control to a third party.
Among the solutions discussed in the report to offloading wireless capacity, are:
- Pico Cells, which like towers, operate as independent networks and can be used to increase propagation of the network or alleviate the capacity constraints on a macro tower, but are limited to a range of 200 meters.
- Micro cells, that have a range of approximately 2 kilometers.
- Femto cells, or small base stations that are designed to be used at home, and that, when connect to a broadband network and can support several mobile phones, but are limited to a range of approximately 10 meters; and
- Distributed Antenna Systems, or DAS, that run "fiber from the base station of a macro cell to enhance capacity for (1) hard to reach places; (2) communities that would oppose the construction of a tower; or (3) stadiums that draw large crowds." The report noted that this solution is different from pico cells because it is not an independent network, but rather the extension of an existing network. Further, the report continues that "[w]e have seen heterogeneous network designs, such as Hetnet by Ericsson, Flexi Zone by Nokia Siemens, and SON (self-optimizing network) by Intucell, that follow the user throughout the network and make for a smooth transition from one cell to the next."
Companies mentioned in the report include AT&T, which "is the first operator in North America to deploy Intucell's SON, Crown Castle, which purchased NextG Network, the largest provider of outdoor DAS, for $1 billion, and American Tower, which is the largest provider of indoor DAS with approximately 260 sites. Also, the report noted that SBA Communications is playing DAS through their investment in ExteNet.