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Big Benefits from Combining Small Cells and Wi-Fi

Small cells and Wi-Fi off-load are proven to be the most powerful tools that mobile network operators have to increase data communication capacity for their subscribers.

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.

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