Alcatel-Lucent aims to Position Small Cells Everywhere

With the introduction of Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus with resolution levels the company calls Retina HD at a whopping 1920×1080 pixels, we can expect a significant increase in bandwidth utilization worldwide. Not to mention the Galaxy Note 4 and Edge at a Quad HD resolution of 2560×1440! This number of pixels is likely more than any of your televisions!

Hoping to be a big part of the solution is Alcatel-Lucent, the company has a heavy focus on their small cell strategy designed to ensure carriers are effectively using their bandwidth. As my colleague Peter Bernstein points out, QUALCOMM too is part of the effort to meet this demand.

Jim Guillet heads up Alcatel-Lucent’ss product marketing for wireless and he tells me he sees small sells as a solutions, not a box business. By this he means the complexity level inherent in deploying an effective small-cell strategy are far greater than just dealing with the hardware.

In fact you need to ensure you can find power for the devices, optimal locations, secure access rights, connectivity, backhaul, installers and of course reasonable labor costs. He tells me the company is knocking down these obstacles one-by one and with a massive smartphone upgrade cycle coming thanks to Apple, Samsung and others, the timing couldn’t be better.

In fact – the company divides up wireless in-building use cases into three different categories such as public, sponsored and private/enterprise with subdivisions in each segment as seen below.

Public Spaces

 Some retail/shopping malls


 Airports/train stations


 Parking structures/underground tunnels


 Most sports venues/stadiums

Sponsored Public Spaces

 Some sports venues/stadiums


 Most retail/shopping malls

Private or Enterprise Spaces

 Offices/corporate campuses








 Universities/educational institutions


 Government/municipal facilities

They rightly believe that decisions are currently made to ensure in-building wireless systems are deployed to provide RF coverage but in the next five years, the decision will move to providing capacity. If you can project out how much many more pixels wireless screens might have – not to mention how many more devices we can expect in a building in 2019, you can see providing capacity will obviously become a major challenge.

As a result, they think DAS won’t scale effectively to meet the challenge and subsequently, the opportunity will present itself for new entrants to help satisfy demand. Finally, they say small cells will become important for environments where operators can deploy their own infrastructure without having to support other operators.

The benefit of small cells is straightforward – its better to have a few dozen people on a small cell than 600 on a large cell. Not only will the costs be potentially lower by using these smaller cells, the available bandwidth per user could increase as well. In fact, some estimates say you can increase capacity by a factor of ten using small cells thanks to more effective radio frequency utilization.

If we need any external validation in-fact, the analysts are quick to point out the “metrocell” market will grow by a factor of six between 2013-2018.

Another interesting takeaway from our recent meeting was the in-building opportunity has only been penetrated by 10% and the total opportunity of the market this year is estimated at $4.3 billion with the market size almost doubling in the next five years! Interestingly, if you think small cells will lessen in importance when 5G rolls around, you’d be wrong.

To help take advantage of the opportunity, the company has put together a database of hundreds of thousands of potential small cell sites in Europe and North America. In addition, they have partnered with Crown Castle to allow carriers to place small cells on their buildings. In fact there is a new small cell shroud which has recently been approved by New York City municipality.

The Alcatel-Lucent Small Cell Shroud Display in action. Uncovered shroud is on the left


So far there are 11 partners in total which can help with installs, 3D mapping, determining current RF coverage versus congestion, etc.

Guillet was also very proud to tell me the company has deployed in carrier networks which are using equipment from competitors – Alcatel-Lucent provides outdoor metro cells underneath the macro cells of others. They can use the same or different spectrum. They emphasize that Vodafone (where Huawei and Ericsson supply the macro cells) is one of the providers doing this today and that they can interop with the equipment of others as well. For more see Who’s Afraid of Interoperability by the company’s Mike Schabel.

In addition, they see applications for small cells in buildings and homes. In fact as more users access business applications from their offices, small cells are being used to provide data traffic indoors. Couple this with more small cells in homes and carriers are finally able to migrate voice off 3G to VoLTE with HD quality.

In fact, they see a nice coexistence of WiFi and small cells – with the potential for carriers to deploy applications over small cells and offload to WiFi when best effort services are adequate.

In the time you took to read this piece, no doubt, countless people have decided to upgrade their smartphones with higher resolution screens demanding even more bandwidth. This is the ideal scenario for those predicting small cell growth and Alcatel-Lucent seems poised to help supply the wireless and heterogeneous networks of the future.

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