The small-cell and low-power base-station market is enjoying a surge of growth, as exemplified by the deployment of 200,000 small cells in Asia last year alone. Currently, the total revenue for small base stations is $1.1 billion. According to Mobile Experts’ market study, Small Cells and Low Power Base Stations, the market will be worth $10 billion by 2018, which translates into a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36%.

As defined in the report, small cells and base stations include small cells, low-power remote radio heads (RRHs), and traditional low-power base stations. Urban small cells are predicted to see the most growth, due to their ability to enhance the capacity of dense mobile networks. Other small cells, such as femtocells, microcells, and picocells, will not experience that level of growth because they do not factor as highly into mobile operators’ strategies.

Specifically, small cells (excluding RRHs and traditional low-power base stations) are forecasted to evolve from 2.5 to 10 million units between now and 2018. In contrast, shipments of low-power RRHs will be driven by networks that are likely to use centralized RAN and Cloud RAN techniques in the future. The report predicts solid growth for the alternatives to small cells.  

The report also provides a useful comparison of C-RAN, distributed antenna systems (DASs), Wi-Fi, and small cells. For example, it points out that mobile operators with access to fiber can use C-RAN cost effectively. In addition, DASs and small cells can be used together. Small cells may eventually serve as the signal source for smaller, less expensive DASs. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi is expected to converge with the small-cell market, becoming universal in the indoor market.

According to Joe Madden, Principal Analyst at Mobile Experts, “Mobile operators in Korea and Japan are leading the way with the highest mobile density in the world. The mobile networks in Seoul and Tokyo are good examples of how technology can be applied to increase mobile density. So, we examined these networks and then estimated the application of similar techniques in the United States, Europe, and other regions.” The market certainly looks promising for small cells, which will continue to grow between 2014 and 2018.