Small Cells: The Key to Enterprise Mobility's Future
As cell phones increasingly become our go-to enterprise devices, they have created unprecedented opportunities for mobile productivity. At the same time, however, they’ve created major challenges for our networks. When we’re outside, there is no guarantee that our data connection is sufficient. In office buildings—where we use our phones the most—it can be hard sometimes to find a strong signal. And as we connect more devices to the internet, the added stress on our networks makes these problems even more difficult.
From a business perspective, this isn’t just an inconvenience. It’s a big problem, because in a mobile-first world, we’re only as productive as our networks. Without service, we get dropped from conference calls and lose important bits of information to static. Without an internet connection, we can’t refer back to an e-mail from the client or send our findings from the field back to the home office. And without enough bandwidth, we can’t connect all of our IoT-enabled devices, which are increasingly relied on to drive faster and smarter levels of service. We need networks that enable our productivity, and we need to find them soon.
No one network has been the panacea for the enterprise. While Wi-Fi is pervasive, demand frequently outstrips capacity leaving users needing more, and seamless and secure access to Wi-Fi networks can sometimes be challenging. According to a Gartner market report, “Gartner predicts that by 2021, 27 percent of corporate data traffic will flow directly from mobile devices to the cloud.”
By creating private, small cell LTE networks, businesses will no longer be limited by the shortcomings of the current mobile landscape
Going Small Drives Big Rewards
Small cell networks—like Wi-Fi or LTE connections on our mobile devices—are the solution to this challenge. They can provide higher quality coverage and capacity indoors. They can provide more consistent coverage outdoors. And they can support a much higher number of devices everywhere. But they’ve often been prohibitively expensive for most businesses outside the telecom industry until now.
We believe that technological advances are causing small cell networks to evolve at a rapid pace and become an increasingly significant part of the enterprise landscape. In additional research, “Gartner estimates that the total number of small cell shipments grew by 12 percent in 2016, and this is forecast to grow a further 13 percent during 2017.”
Over the next five years, a host of new small cell-based networks will become commercially available. License Assisted Access (LAA) small cell technology will shortly be introduced to the market that will leverage both unlicensed (5 GHz) and licensed LTE spectrum in an aggregated fashion to provide a fatter pipe with faster data rates and more responsive mobile applications. Network OEMs are also introducing integrated cellular small cells with Wi-Fi access point technology to simplify installation and provide enterprise employees and guests with access to both networks to address demand.
The FCC has defined a new frequency band called the Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) that allocates a large swath of spectrum for sharing between incumbent federal users, commercial licensees, and general users like enterprises. CBRS networks are entering expanded trials this year, with a broad ecosystem including smartphones to develop soon after.
As these networks become available, they will create a unique opportunity for businesses: the ability to create private mobile LTE networks, just like the office Wi-Fi networks that we see today. These LTE networks will allow businesses to ease some of the pressure on congested Wi-Fi channels. And, in the process, they will enable faster, more responsive, and more cost-efficient connections on a network with more bandwidth. This means that companies will be able to connect more devices to the internet, and those connected devices will be faster and more productive than before. And best of all, businesses can unlock all of these benefits while simultaneously reducing costs.
From day one, the positive impact of these networks will quickly become apparent. Call quality will dramatically improve, helping to ensure that employees won’t miss important information during meetings. Video conferences will be crystal clear, allowing employees to show documents without having to worry about low resolution or video lag. IoT-enabled devices will seamlessly connect to the network without putting additional stress on the available bandwidth. And because companies independently manage their networks, all of the data generated by these connections will remain secure.
The Small Cells Era Is Now
Because of these private networks, businesses in every industry will be able to increase productivity at any job site. Retailers can offer a ubiquitous high bandwidth network to customers and employees in dense urban areas. A multimedia company can handle all of the data traffic from the thousands of devices on the set of their next blockbuster film. And a construction company can create, monitor, and even remotely control IoT-connected equipment at the building site of their next, big project. Meanwhile, business travelers will never have to worry about the reliability of hotel Wi-Fi since they can just use the cellular network. And employees at the office will never have to worry about the productivity lost from gaps in coverage. With a mix of users accessing the LTE small cell and others using Wi-Fi, both networks will serve users optimally.
The era of small cells is here, and it will impact businesses of every size and industry. By creating private, small cell LTE networks, businesses will no longer be limited by the shortcomings of the current mobile landscape. Instead, they will be able to reap the full benefits of our mobile future. Employees will have greater access to full, five-bar wireless coverage everywhere they go, enabling them to be more productive, on more devices, at a lower cost. The future of mobile networks is smaller and smarter, and the enterprise is ready to embrace it.