The chair of the EU's Small Cell Forum, David Orloff, spoke at an event in London, where he said that "Europe is lagging" in small cell adoption and buildout compared to other countries. According to Orloff, small cells are theoretically able to meet many of the bandwidth and coverage needs in the IoT and mobile sectors, but only if they're deployed in larger numbers. The issue, however, is that many of the companies that would normally deploy them, such as wireless carriers and network equipment makers, are questioning how effective the EU's various use cases are for the expanded 5G and IoT technologies that a small cell network would bring. Essentially, the question is whether a larger small cell deployment would be profitable. Regardless, the Small Cell Forum predicts the total number of deployed small cells in the EU jumping from 52,000 observed in 2017 up to a figure closer to 310,000 by 2022.
While commercial 5G is not the only possible use for small cells by far, it is arguably the most important, and almost certainly the one that will make the most use of bandwidth on future small cell network deployments. With most players predicting commercial 5G to be in full swing by 2020, the Small Cell Forum's timeline would need to sweep upward in deployment numbers in the near future in order for those needs to be met adequately by small cells. Otherwise, operators will have to turn to other technological breakthroughs in the wireless field, such as network function virtualization.
One proposed method to ease the burden and risk on operators and other deployment managers is shared network resources. According to UK industry veteran and Opencell CEO Graham Payne, shared infrastructure is going to be the way of the future for the EU market. Meanwhile, Irvind Ghai, leader of Qualcomm Atheros' enterprise small cells unit, sees dollar signs in the region; looking at trends in both emerging markets and larger ones, naming the United States as a prime example of the latter, he says that the EU is a potential site for massive growth in the small cell sector. Naturally, this could drive competition among network resource management and deployment companies, spurring all kinds of exciting developments like pricing wars, skirmishes for municipal contracts, and government oversight. It's safe to say that however the EU collectively decides to get on track with small cell adoption and 5G deployment, there are players waiting in the wings to make things interesting.