Originally published: March 1, 2012
Last updated: March 3, 2012 - 3:53pm
The rise of mixed mobile networks of Wi-Fi, small cells and traditional base stations, a major theme of this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, may change the competitive landscape of both service providers and equipment vendors.
Numerous infrastructure vendors, including major suppliers such as Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson as well as smaller and newer players, introduced small base stations for use inside buildings and in outdoor spaces that are dense with cellular users. These will complement the traditional macro cells typically found on cell towers and roofs, which can cover entire neighborhoods. Though carriers have used smaller radios such as picocells in the past to aid coverage indoors, those have been relatively expensive, specialized devices, planned and installed by carrier engineers, that often use an in-building DAS (distributed antenna system). The new generation of base stations, including femtocells already deployed in many homes, are intended to be less expensive and closer to mass-produced consumer electronics. Wi-Fi is also poised to play a bigger role in mobile networks, both in hybrid small cells and through new standards for making access points act more like cells.