IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

Metro cells versus Micro cells: Which is Winning?

Based on research for VDC’s soon to publish Track 2, Volume 2: DSPs, GPUs, and Media Processors report, VDC observed that metro cells are currently beating out microcells. In the course of this blog, I aim to analyze this trend and the market dynamics that are underlying it. 

It should come as no surprise that small cells like metro cells and femto cells are a big deal these days. With the huge explosion in data and video traffic that companies like Cisco are predicting, the macro cells are simply not viable, given the cost of installation, and the necessary accompanying investments in radio and backhaul infrastructure.  Added to that is the potential interference issues between the macro cells and the problems of permitting and finding enough space just to put them. Offloading mobile devices to small cells lets the traffic they generate bypass the radio and backhaul network, reducing the pressure there as well.

The question of why metro cells are exceeding other small cells in growth, at least in the case of certain companies is very interesting. One potentially key piece in the answer to that question is that in most cases, the Managed Service Providers (MSPs) own and control the metro cells, while other small cells are in enterprise or individual homes. This provides more incentive for the MSP to use metro cells, since they have ownership and management over the devices. Another cell type with fast growth is femto cells. Unlike metro cells, femto cells have limitations in terms of number of channels, restricted access, and can only be deployed indoors. Metro cells can support a greater number of users and can be deployed in both indoor and outdoor environments. VDC believes that the advantages and flexibility of metro cells are contributing to their growth.

Whether metro cells or femto cells emerge as the leading cell type is likely at the discretion of MSPs and enterprise. Whoever can align the most budgetary muscle and leverage the greatest influence on standards regulatory bodies will likely be setting the trend for which technology rises to dominance.


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