Cowen and Company's "Technology Media Telecom Industry Overview - Trend Spotting 2013," published on December 5th, noted a number of recent and emerging trends within the telecommunications marketplace. One of the trends highlighted in this report is fleshed out in the Section entitled "Emerging Small Cell Opportunity."
According to Cowen's analysts, "the growing demands being placed on mobile data networks combined with the increased capabilities of LTE-A mean small cell solutions are set to become a more important segment of the wireless equipment market. These solutions can address data congestion and coverage gaps in a more economical manner and provide operators with significant network flexibility." Moreover, the "market has begun to evolve from primarily Wi-Fi offload and indoor femtocells to outdoor cellular access and fully integrated solutions. Operators are actively experimenting with various small cell deployments with an eye toward using a mix of technologies (femto, micro cell, macro cell, Wi-Fi) in designing their future networks." In support of this position, Cowen noted that "Qualcomm recently commented that it believes base stations will shrink to the size of femto cells over the long-term; call sessions will hand off from macro to femtos and back. The primary barrier right now is interference management."
With respect to individual operators, the report noted that "Qualcomm has technology it believes would solve the issue and open the femto environment; a hybrid femto /macro network could bring up to a 1000x increase in network capacity and pricing per cell down to handset levels." Notwithstanding, Cowen noted that there are potential concerns with respect to interoperability across vendor equipment, and that, specifically, "questions do remain on how well small cell solutions will interact with large vendor macro cell and mobile packet core equipment, as well as the costs and logistics around site provisioning, deployment, and backhaul."
For these reasons, Cowen concluded that it believes that "the larger macro vendors, such as Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent, who have invested aggressively in small cell solutions and offer complete portfolios will have an early advantage in winning contracts around diverse (i.e. not just Wi-Fi offload) small cell deployments." However, the "small cell vendor market remains highly fragmented across different solutions (femto, micro, Wi-Fi), and that with "a number of operators trialing or exploring broader deployments, this could provide an opportunity for new vendors to enter the micro/macro market and private companies to emerge." That said, according to Cowen, the key players will continue to remain Ericsson (BelAir Networks), Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, and Nokia Siemens.