November 6, 2014

Will Small Cells Meet the Needs of the Enterprise?


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In an earlier Webtorials TechNote, we offered a tutorial on small cells.  This follow-up looks at the applicability in the enterprise.  This report looks at how small cells are useful in the enterprise.  

To be sure, small cells as a topic and technology is still undergoing transformation.   However, the industry advocacy group, the Small Cell Forum has created an enterprise framework and supporting documents, including use cases to help accelerate and smooth future deployment.  

While small cells serve the mobile carrier's need to address subscriber capacity, it may not be seem to directly serve the enterprise customer's needs. Under a data paradigm, data is usually served by WiFi access points and a fixed line usually provides the voice component. However, with increased use of the mobile phone as the vehicle serving a user's voice needs, call reception and voice quality is everything. At a minimum where mobile reception is poor, a mobile carrier can either be proactive or reactive (with the enterprise customer's prodding) in deploying a small cell to retain the customer's business.  

Yet mobile carriers also view small cells as a gateway for synergy with the enterprise.    Where carriers see revenue opportunity, enterprises may see operational efficiencies and savings through managed mobility services. Some of the following managed mobility capabilities enabled by enterprise small cells are extracted below and described in detail in a SpiderCloud sponsored market analysis

Hosted Unified Communications

Unified Communications (UC) refers to a set of real-time communications services including instant messaging, presence, telephony and video conferencing, as well as non-real-time communication services like e-mail, SMS, voicemail and fax.  UC is not necessarily a single product, but is often a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types.

Mobile Device Management (MDM)

Mobile device management entails lifecycle management of both company and employee provided mobile devices to manage and secure enterprise data and access.

Wi-Fi-as-a-Service

Wi-Fi-as-a-Service for Enterprises is the delivery of enterprise-focused services such as secure internal and guest Wi-Fi. Where the operator is already installing small cells with Wi-Fi, it can offer its business customers Wi-Fi access when the opportunity is available.

Context-Aware (or Location-Based) Services

Context-aware, or location-based, services can offer enterprises a variety of benefits.  In retail settings, knowing the  precise location of a customer can indicate interest in a particular product or class of products.   Using this  knowledge, retailers can  advertise sponsored product information or special promotions to the interested consumer. There are also potential employee tracking and related security services that may be beneficial for enterprises.

Small cell enterprise implementation isn't without deployment questions, some of which include backhaul, security, placement and mobile carrier 'exclusivity.'   In backhaul, who pays for the data pipe to connect the small cell?  If the small cell replaces the company's WiFi service, can it be within the company's firewall or must it be outside to maintain enterprise security processes?  Will there be an issue for a small cell's physical location to optimize its mobile carrier spectrum coverage versus a traditional WiFi access point?  If one mobile carrier will deploy small cells for their and their customers' benefit, what about the enterprise employees using other mobile carriers in the age of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)? Could this push the enterprise to allow too many small cells in the enterprise? These are some of the basic questions that arise as enterprises work with mobile carriers in adopting this new technology.  

Surrounding the 2014 Mobile World Congress wireless industry tradeshow in February, there were a couple of interesting announcements that highlight enterprise small cell progress.  AT&T announced that it had deployed more than 350 small cells and other network elements to bolster its network in Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts and properties.  Small cell deployment were mostly located in offices, administrative areas and tunnels where cellular coverage was challenging.   Another announcement came from Ericsson, the network infrastructure vendor for many global mobile carriers, where its 'Small Cell as a Service' initiative can help accelerate the technology and adoption.  Though the concept is still new, Ericsson may work with mobile carriers to limit their capital expense exposure and jointly deploy on customers' premises.   

While LTE deployments and the latest smartphones and tablets draw the most attention, the emerging small cell is going to make its way into the mobile networks and enterprises in a couple of years.  Many of the use cases may or may not be adopted as mobile carriers and customers figure out the best fit for their situation on a case by case basis.  What's certain is that the technology is coming and enterprise stakeholders should be aware of how they can use it to their benefit.


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