Mobile Operators Reach for Unlicensed Spectrum and Drive Small Cell Uptake as Data Consumption Surges

Oyster Bay, New York - 10 Aug 2016

With operators struggling to maintain cost-effective operations in the face of exponentially growing data demand, many are now turning to unlicensed spectrum technologies. ABI Research predicts that the support for unlicensed spectrum technologies, including LTE-LAA and Wi-Fi, will be one of the main drivers for the indoor small cell market, resulting in overall revenue hitting $1.8 billion in 2021.

“Unlicensed LTE had a rough start, meeting negative and skeptic reactions to its possible conflict with Wi-Fi operations in the 5 GHz bands,” says Ahmed Ali, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. “But the ongoing standardization and coexistence efforts increased the support in the technology ecosystem.”

For the LAA standard, the 3GPP adopted a Listen-Before-Talk channel access mechanism to share the spectrum fairly. The IEEE and Wi-Fi Alliance are also developing a coexistence testing process to help stakeholders deliver a harmonized, multi-technology environment in the unlicensed spectrum.

In harmony with the adoption of unlicensed LTE solutions, Wi-Fi remains an essential and well-established element of the indoor connectivity. The availability of multiple access technologies aligns well with the different enterprise requirements and will drive further convergence among these technologies in the years ahead.

“The dynamic and diverse nature of indoor venues calls for an all-inclusive small cell network that intelligently adapts to different user requirements,” concludes Ali. “Support for multi-operation features like 3G/4G and Wi-Fi/LAA access is necessary for the enterprise market.”

ABI Research forecasts that support for LTE-based and Wi-Fi unlicensed spectrum technologies within small cell equipment will grow to comprise 51% of total annual shipments by 2021 at a CAGR of 47%.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Unlicensed LTE Technologies. This report is part of the company’s Future Networks sector, which includes research, data, and analyst insights.

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