Vodafone will start shrinking its cells in 2013

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Credit: Ruckus Wireless

Vodafone(s vod) will begin to deploy the first 3G and LTE small cells throughout its global networks in early 2013, Light Reading reports, but despite the multinational carrier’s strong advocacy for the tiny base station technology, Vodafone CTO Steve Pusey is treading cautiously.

Speaking to Light Reading at Vodafone’s annual mid-year analyst and media conference, Pusey said he has been experimenting with 1000 small cells in its current UK 3G networks and has instructed the regional CTOs to deploy 200 small cells in the big cities of their respective countries’ networks by next March. Two hundred small cells in a metro area is really more a trial than a commercial deployment, but Vodafone has to start somewhere. And the way Pusey describes there are still plenty of obstacles the technology needs to overcome before small cells are ready for large-scale deployments.

Pusey told Light Reading that the integrated LTE/3G/Wi-Fi small cells Vodafone wants wouldn’t be in commercial production from infrastructure vendors until January. And once they’re ready there a big operational and logistical hurdles to overcome. The two biggest being securing the rights to lampposts and other outdoor furniture these cells will need to be mounted on and picking the right kind of backhaul technologies to link thousands of tiny cells back to the network proper.

Operators aren’t deploying small cells because they’re cute. They will add enormous amounts of capacity to their networks. Each cell can only support a finite amount of capacity, but by shrinking down the size of each cell, carriers will be able to pack macro-cell’s worth of bandwidth into a tiny footprint. Most US operators have small cell plans as well. Last week AT&T(s t) announced an aggressive plan to rollout 40,000 small cells starting in the first quarter.

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