Small CellAt 6 million and counting, the number of small cells installed worldwide now exceeds that of traditional mobile base stations, according to Informa Telecoms & Media’s latest quarterly small-cell market status report. Though residential small cell installations account for 80% of the small-cell total, there are now 45 wireless carrier deployments, including by nine of the top ten cell carriers by global revenue, as well as enterprise and public-access deployments.

Carriers are scaling up their femtocell deployments, as illustrated by Sprint having deployed 1 million femtocells, up from 250,000 in 2011. Telefonica O2, Orange UK and Bouygues Telecom launched femtocell deployments over the summer, making the UK and France the first two countries where all major cell carriers are now employing small cells.

Telefonica O2 deployed the world’s densest femtocell installation in East London for the 2012 Summer Olympics and launched public Wi-Fi in Central London, which is to be upgraded to support licensed small cells, Informa analysts note.

Small cell technology has developed and has now been adopted to the degree that it’s transformed the physical “landscape” of the telecoms industry in recent years. “The days of expensive cell towers have given way to the era of high numbers of low-cost, mini-access points,” elaborated Informa principal analyst Dimitris Mavrakis. “Without this change, the mobile network simply could not sustain the continued growth in data usage.

Small cell technology is also resulting in new opportunities for a new breed of small cell service providers, more specifically the emergence of Small Cell as a Service (SCaaS) as a viable business and technology model. “Such a dramatic network transformation opens up interesting new models and over the past quarter the Small Cell as a Service idea has been gaining traction,” Mavrikis pointed out.

“It allows third parties to build networks that several mobile operators can use, thereby reducing costs and time to market. At the moment, this is being targeted at major operators that are looking for a simple route to establishing a small-cell network as well as smaller players that have found the barriers to entry too high to date.”

Virgin Media announced an LTE small cell trial in the UK in advance of launching a SCaaS offering, while Colt Telecom said its SCaaS service is in the trial stage with “a major European operator.” Two new companies—Cloudberry Mobile and ClearSky—have also come out with their own SCaaS offering in Europe and the U.S., respectively, aiming to attract smaller operators as customers, Informa points out.

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