It scarcely feels like two years since we last convened in London for SCWS 2019, but it is wonderful to see the industry (re)unite. The small cell ecosystem hasn’t stopped while we’ve all been unable to meet, and the market has seen huge developments including new and evolved technologies, suppliers, deployers and deployments all of which are reflected in this year’s program. This blog provides a brief overview of the opening keynote sessions from day one of the conference.
Diversification, diversification, diversification
Following a welcome from SCF CEO, Sue Monahan, SCF Chief Strategy Officer Julius Robson, took center stage to provide a more detailed introduction into what the next three days have in store for delegates, and to touch on the key trends in the sector that drove the thinking behind how SCWS 2021 took shape. The event has been coordinated to encompass not just emerging technologies and commercial launches by key players, but also to emphasize and confront emerging barriers and challenges, informing SCF’s work and bringing the industry together to create consensus on the best and most interoperable way forward.
Julius highlighted the key role of diversification in SCF’s work – likening biodiversity and the small cell industry as examples of diverse ecosystems being richer and more resilient to change. In the context of SCWS this can be applied, but not limited, to:
- Diversity of Applications
- Diversity of Supply Chain
- Diversity of Deployers
In the context of emerging 5G applications, use cases and technologies, all of these diversities dovetail into informing SCF’s work and in turn explain their featuring roles in SCWS 2021. As awareness of 5G grows, so industries are beginning to examine what their specific requirements are and what they need from 5G. Many of these industries are represented at SCWS, including Property, Healthcare, Automotive and Industry 4.0 – and representatives from each of these will be discussing their specific requirements in the coming days.
Past the pandemic – more small cells than ever before
Next up was SCF Content Director and co-founder of Rethink Research, Caroline Gabriel, to present the latest overview of key trends in the small cell market informed by the 2020-21 Market Status Report, due to be published in June. Informed by contributions from 84 mobile operators and 33 other deployers of small cells (a constantly growing number which includes private network operators and neutral hosts), Caroline highlighted the key theme of diversification within the small cell industry, and how it was reflected in the survey results. Diversification applies to vendors, deployers, technical architectures and business models, and crucially will be enabled by spectrum availability and open architectures.
While the pandemic has seen a reduction in forecasts for 2020-21, with planned rollouts disrupted, 4G and 5G small cell investment continues and the numbers expected by 2026 are now even higher than they were 12 months ago. While 5G is driving a large number of investments, Caroline was at pains to remind the audience that a lot of current investment is still in 4G technologies thanks to availability of products and spectrum and lower costs. 5G deployments are not expected to pass 50% of all units deployed until late 2023.
In closing, Caroline drew attention to feedback from the Operators surveyed regarding the importance of automation, a trend which had been growing steadily over the years. Operators also highlighted the need for a clear consensus on total cost of ownership and Return on investment.
Silicon drives what we do
Next up was Picocom President, Peter Claydon, with a fascinating presentation on the future history of small cells, casting back 35 years before looking forward to the next five. In retracing the history of small (and/or femto) cells, Peter touched upon Moore’s and Cooper’s (the radio equivalent of Moore, observing the amount of data and voice calls in an area of spectrum double every 30 months) and the essential role that developments in silicon technology play in driving the capacity necessary to support these levels of growth.
As with 3G and 4G before, Peter predicts there will be a lag, and as Caroline observed, while there are some 5G deployments now it will be 2023 before they begin in earnest. With new types of networks, shared, neutral host and private networks, 4G will feature for years to come. Lots of legacy devices will remain in general use and so small cell devices will need to be flexible. But silicon technology is powering these small cells to new heights and new use cases.
The session closed with a presentation from Gerardo Giaretta, Director of Product Management at Qualcomm, discussing Pervasive 5G Coverage with Small Cells. His talk encompassed the accelerating commercialization of 5G globally as it moves into the mainstream, and touched upon use cases Qualcomm are examining with a particular focus on Private Networks and how Open RAN and Virtualization are playing significant roles in how small cells will come to be deployed in the future.
With 12 sessions over the next 3 days, 24hrs of programming and more than 60 speakers, while SCWS 2021 may be virtual we can seize upon the advantages of a broader reach, a truly global meeting, giving delegates who might not have had a chance to attend in person the chance to join, and more actively network and engage based on mutual interests.