According to forecasts from ABI Research (News - Alert), the small cells market will be worth $14.3 billion by 2017, with shipments of small cells including microcells, picocells, femtocells and carrier Wi-Fi access points outpacing shipments of macrocells by nearly 50,000 units.

ABI has started examining trends in outdoor small cells separately from indoor residential and enterprise units.

“We believe that outdoor small cells have distinctly different characteristics, including the need for carrier grade software, wider temperature ranges, and more sophisticated RF from indoor consumer and enterprise femtocells,” says Nick Marshall, principal analyst at ABI research.

The product mix in 2017, according to forecasts, will lean heavily on femtocells and carrier Wi-Fi. “We forecast that the femtocell and carrier Wi-Fi small cell classes will make up 50 percent of the revenue and 89 percent of the units in 2017,” Marshall predicts. “The remaining 50 percent of the revenue and 11 percent of the units in 2017 are represented by the more expensive pico- and microcell classes.”

ABI specifically predicts that carrier integrated Wi-Fi small cells will experience particularly rapid growth. Researchers suggest that the market will grow 60 percent to shipments of 6.8 million units and revenue of $1.7 billion by 2017.

The report also notes a number of challenges confronting the growing small cells industry. These include roaming, policy integration, network management, interference mitigation and backhaul provision. Wireless backhaul for small cells is a particular problem, since it tends to cost twice as much as backhaul for macrocells.

However, ABI also noted that many vendors are creating solutions to meet those challenges, which will increase the adoption of small cells by service providers. For small cells to succeed, says analyst Senza Fili, vendors will have to develop solutions for low-cost, high-capacity and ultra-compact backhaul.

For ABI’s full range of findings, consult their Small Cells and Carrier Wi-Fi Research Service. Additional information includes insights, market data, vendor matrices and competitive analyses.

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Edited by Stefanie Mosca