HetNet step 1: More LTE microcells than base stations by 2014

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By 2014, you might be using an LTE network, but the signal may not come from the towers we’re so used to seeing. ABI Research estimates that there will be more LTE microcells in place than actual LTE base stations as early as 2014. These network devices typically supplement coverage but only in small areas filled with people, such as malls, large buildings and other highly trafficked areas.

ABI calls for 127,000 LTE small cells sold, compared to 113,000 LTE macrocells, within the next two years, and there’s good reason to believe this will happen. Consumers and enterprise workers alike are fast migrating traditional computer activities to connected mobile devices. But large-scale networks are costly to maintain and expand and are limited by spectrum availability. It’s far less expensive to supplement broad coverage areas with smaller bits of infrastructure targeted at high traffic areas.

My colleague, Kevin Fitchard, suggests this forecast from ABI is a precursor to the coming emergence of the “HetNet”, or heterogeneous network. That model uses a network topology comprised of multiple access technologies: Wi-Fi, picocells, femtocells and traditional macrocell base stations. The idea is that devices can stay on the same network, even when roaming around, regardless of the specific access method. In order for that work, the number of microcells will have to far outweigh the number of base stations, so ABI’s forecast is a step in the right direction.

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