Small Cell Network Sharing As A Way Forward To Network Densification?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a bit how network densification will look like once the capacity of macro cells is no longer sufficient to satisfy demand. As statistics keep telling us, a significant part of cellular data traffic is not generated outdoors but actually indoors. When densifying the network its unlikely that this would work well from the outside, densification has to be done from within buildings.

The big question is how that can be done not only economically but also logistically? To get really high data rates, fiber into the building is an absolute necessity. An indoor cell being connected to the network via a slow DSL or cable link does not make sense. Gigabits/s are required!

I have a hard time imagining that building owners would be enthusiastic to have three or four different network providers drag fiber or Ethernet cabling through the building. So perhaps the solution is to use small cells? Even today they are almost the same size as Wifi access points, only require a single (Power over-) Ethernet cable for connectivity and can be run in MOCN network sharing mode. It’s incredible how their size has shrunk and I think it’s likely that their size and power consumption will continue to shrink even more over time. But even at their current size they are unobtrusive enough to be installed just about anywhere.

The main problem with this solution: One of the cellular network operators must be operating the small cell for all others which creates a monopoly with its associated problems. Case in point: Network coverage in a very long tunnel that I drive through with the train almost every day was interrupted for several months because the carrier that operated the shared infrastructure couldn’t get his act together. A solution could perhaps be to put a system in place where the ‘hardware owner’ has to pay the other companies more for outages of the infrastructure than it would cost to fix things in a reasonable amount of time, e.g. withing 2-3 days.

Fortunately, small cells might be much easier to maintain and fix than currently shared installations which are mostly cellular base stations located at a central point and whose signals are then sent over the same cable and amplified and finally distributed to several antennas inside a building.

And one more point: Since we are talking about local cellular indoor coverage monopolies I wonder if that’s something regulators have to take a look at?