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Small Cells Are Big For Business

Closing the big deal.  Calming an irate customer.  Clarifying instructions given in an email.  Voice has long been the killer app for business.  As the world goes mobile, smartphones are becoming a key way for business people to stay connected, not just when they are out of the office, but an important means of voice communication in the office.  Like consumers, many business users are cutting the cord and using their mobile device, instead of their desk phone, to make and receive voice calls.  A recent Cisco study of mobile users reveals that 50 percent of knowledge workers use their mobile phone at least one-quarter of the time to make calls in the office, instead of reaching for a desk phone.  And, 35 percent of knowledge workers equally choose between a mobile and desk device when placing a call.  We expect this mobile displacement of the traditional desk phone to grow as employees increasingly bring their own mobile devices to work and use them for conducting business.

Mobile cellular networks were built to cover large outdoor and semi-outdoor areas.  They were never built to penetrate the steel, glass and concrete of modern buildings.  While there may be some coverage near the windows, the signal strength rapidly degrades as you head towards the center of the building.  This is only going to get worse as new building materials, such as blast resistant glass, make it even harder for signals from the macrocell network to adequately cover the place of work.  Our research found that one-third of all business users receive only 1 to 3 bars of signal strength at their place of work.  And, 10 percent of business people obtain very poor quality mobile service (1 to 2 bars).

The shift to mobile in the workplace should be good news for mobile operators.  But, if business users can’t connect at their place of work operators are never going to see that increased mobile traffic and revenue.  What is worse is that these high value business customers are going to look elsewhere for better mobile coverage at work.  Almost one-half of business mobile users told Cisco that they would likely switch to another carrier who offered better mobile coverage.  And, according to the same research, 25 percent of business users were extremely, or very likely, to switch to another mobile operator to ensure that they can reliably use their phones at work.

Fortunately, the licensed mobile network can now be easily extended indoors using, low power and low capacity licensed radio access points, or small cells.  These indoor small cells connect to the core mobile network through the business broadband data connection.  The best thing is that these licensed small cells are very compatible with existing business Wi-Fi networks, sharing the same power, broadband and often same location on the building’s ceiling.  In fact, many vendors, like Cisco, now make it easy to add mobile small cells to the corporate Wi-Fi network, by simply clipping the new small cell on to the existing wireless access point.  With a simple and elegant solution so readily available to solve the business mobile dead zone challenge, it is no wonder that ABI Research estimates that at least one-third of the projected 37.5 million small cell deployments in 2018 will be in enterprises and small and medium businesses.

While better mobile voice quality is definitely the killer app for business small cell deployment, many businesses are starting to look beyond voice.  Of course, the small cells can also carry mobile data, providing a seamless and continuous data session and experience from the outdoor mobile macro network through to the deepest reaches of the office.  Other value-added services include such things as: collaboration applications, HD voice, on-net calling, location-based services and extending all of the traditional PBX functionalities to the mobile device.  Businesses and mobile operators alike, we see real value and opportunities when they move beyond delivering just better indoor voice quality for mobile business users and develop unique and valuable solutions that leverage business small cells for key verticals like education, retail, healthcare and hospitality.

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