These technologies enable them to meet the demand from a growing number of customers who use smartphones and tablets that are generating rapidly increasing mobile network traffic loads -- due largely to video content consumption.
According to the latest market study by Senza Fili, mobile network operators that deploy small cells and Wi-Fi concurrently can reduce their wireless data per-bit costs up to two-thirds -- when compared with legacy macro-cell costs.
Most mobile service providers don't get to choose whether to use small cells or Wi-Fi. To meet their capacity density targets in the high-traffic locations where subscribers gather, they need to deploy both small cells and Wi-Fi, side by side.
And subscribers demand both: Wi-Fi for fast and inexpensive wireless access, and cellular for mobility and coverage. The Senza Fili study explored the business model for the coexistence of small cells and Wi-Fi within the same network.
Operators not only stand to benefit from using both Wi-Fi and small cells to boost capacity, they also can reap additional gains by deploying both in the same small-cell enclosure -- thereby increasing the capacity of each small cell and integrating Wi-Fi traffic more tightly within the cellular network.
"By deploying LTE, 3G and Wi-Fi jointly as part of an integrated sublayer of small cells, operators can meet their capacity targets faster, leverage their existing Wi-Fi footprint, and significantly reduce their per-bit costs," says Monica Paolini, president of Senza Fili Consulting.
The business case for small cells can be challenging, especially for 3G. Adding Wi-Fi to small cells strengthens the business case. Senza Fili used a total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) model to calculate the overall benefits of the combined solution.
The key market study findings include:
- TCO for small cells and Wi-Fi ranges from 10 to 25 percent of the TCO for a macro cell, depending on the configuration of the small cell.
- Because Opex plays a much larger role than Capex in the small-cell business case, configurations that reduce Opex -- such as multi-sector and multi-interface small cells -- lead to a more robust business case.
- The low marginal cost makes adding Wi-Fi, 3G or additional sectors to an LTE small cell an attractive proposition that reduces the number of sites a network operator must manage and increases capacity more rapidly.
- Even at low densities, LTE small cells and Wi-Fi quickly take on a dominant role, relative to macro cells, in transporting mobile traffic.
- Small cells and Wi-Fi enable operators to slash per-bit TCO by at least half. By combining cellular and Wi-Fi, operators can cut the per-bit TCO to a third of the TCO of macro cells.