Local Bureaucracies to Blame for Sprint Stalling Small Cell Deployment

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By Benjamin Horvath
Inside Towers Special Correspondent

Many believe small cells are the most effective way for carriers to solve the capacity challenge that looms large as the decade progresses. Indeed, 14 million of small cells have been shipped to date, and the market is expected to rise to $6 billion by 2020, according to statistics provided by the Small Cells Forum.

So why would Sprint announce its plan to decrease capital expenditures by 36% from last year, much of which was to be used for network densification via small cells?

Carriers’ rush to deploy small cells has made it difficult for local municipalities and governments to review and approve (or deny) small cell applications. The process, said Telecom TV, typically takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months, making it difficult for carriers to plan their network densification strategies.                                                                        

Just six months ago, Sprint CEO and President, Marcelo Claure, announced the company’s aggressive small cell deployment plan. The carrier announced its plan to deploy tens of thousands of small cells late last year, but provided little detail regarding the process and timetable of the project.

Claure cited the large amount of spectrum the company currently owns as the main reason it would top others in network performance.

“Like I’ve said, in the next two years we expect to achieve network superiority for one simple reason: we have more spectrum than anyone else and more capacity equals more speed,” Claure told the Kansas City Business Journal.  

“Our network is performing great, but pretty much you have seen nothing yet,” Claure was quoted saying in a December article published by the Journal. “There is much more to come in the densification.”

Now Claure, like many others in the industry, are requesting that the FCC intervene to expedite the deployment process, according to Telecom TV. The article notes the FCC intervened last year by making changes to the federal environmental review process, speeding along the deployment process.

But with or without FCC intervention it will be challenging for carriers to meet the growing data demand, as global data traffic is estimated to increase 11-fold by 2018.

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