lgarzaBy Lisa Garza, Service Provider Mobility Marketing Manger

The annual Small Cells event for Middle East and North Africa (MENA) took place this week. It featured regional innovators like Saudi Telecom, Etisalat, Zain and du, in addition to the global small cell pioneers like AT&T and SoftBank. Here’s what we took from the event

1. Mobile data growth and reducing cost-per-bit is a global challenge
The Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) shows that mobile IP traffic in MENA region is set to grow 10x over the next four years. Revenues are not set to grow at anything like this pace.  Service providers are responding to the capacity challenge by augmenting macro networks, by adding new spectrum and by introducing more efficient cellular technologies like LTE.  But these steps alone will not povide all of the capacity required, and some, like LTE introduction, will accelerate data usage by encouraging video consumption. The big capacity gains come from reusing cellular spectrum and by offloading to Wi-Fi – that’s what small cells are all about, and they’re a hot topic because the capacity they add comes at a fraction of the cost-per-bit of traditional radio technologies.1

2. Small cells are becoming central to network transformation strategies
These small cells conferences are a barometer of service provider, analyst and vendor thinking.  This year, in amongst the familiar subjects of backhaul, business models and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), there is a new emphasis emerging.  Small cells as part of network transformation, small cells as part of a drive to lower-cost heterogeneous access with Wi-Fi and cellular working together. And with the increased emphasis on Wi-Fi small cells, a recognition that there are new opportunities for service providers and enterprises to work in partnership.
3. Enterprise is the focal point for Cellular-Wi-Fi small cell integration
There’s an emerging win-win between enterprises and service providers, which several speakers refer to at the event. Enterprises have invested in Wi-Fi, want to fully mobilize enterprise apps and liberate desk-bound employees, and face the rising challenge of BYOD. Service providers are integrating Wi-Fi and cellular technologies from small cell to backhaul to core systems, creating a foundation of universal premium voice and data that makes a new generation of mobile services possible.

4. Monetization deployments: migrating from Wi-Fi to cellular?
In a pre-conference workshop, Cisco experts provided details of the latest small cell monetization deployments around the world.  The workshop included a case study from Amro Mohamed Al Buti, Head of Application and Content Design at Saudi Telecom. Small cell monetization tends to happen once there are established small cell deployments, so it is no surprise that the first wave is based on Wi-Fi, the trail-blazing technology for small cells.

5. Automation: the hidden trend in small cells
Small cells are about more capacity at a lower cost per bit.  And so many of the presentations at this year’s conference were about TCO and business case for small cells. But what does lower cost-per-bit and lower opex mean in practice? It means automation. Automation to reduce or eliminate manual radio planning, to make installation simple, to enable autonomous working to policy, adapting to congestion, responding to user behavior and managing interference. Expect to see more evidence of this drive to automation, enabled by joined-up intelligent software from the edge to the core, in the coming year.  www.cisco.com/go/smallcell