Analyst: Alcatel-Lucent leads small cell space

July 17, 2012 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Current Analysis contends that Alcatel-Lucent is the most competitive vendor in the burgeoning market for small cell solutions. Mobile equipment vendors have been talking about small cells for years, but the topic reached critical mass this year, as every major equipment vendor put their small cell offerings front and center with many new systems unveiled.

Current Analysis recently reviewed the small cell offerings of 10 equipment vendors, including the market’s top four RAN vendors (Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia Siemens), looking specifically at enclosed, metro-, micro-, and picocell LTE base stations (not including vendors focused on indoor-only femtocell products) and mapping out their strengths, weaknesses, and a range of other attributes. Alcatel-Lucent was judged to be the overall leader, competitive on multiple fronts, though not superior in every respect.

“As the small cell market has become a mainstream push for vendors, evaluating offerings has actually become more complex,” stated Tim Dowd, CEO of Current Analysis. “With new contenders joining the battle to win market share, we are expanding our coverage to look at not only the traditional RAN vendors, but also the dynamic, competitive landscape as new players enter the fray.”

In the first of the two reports, Ed Gubbins, Senior Analyst with the Service Provider Infrastructure practice, highlights the factors in play:

Vendors are already playing form-factor leapfrog, adapting previous designs in favor of smaller, lighter products in response to competitive pressures and with the understanding that small cells will need to be physically discrete and easy to deploy.

Though all major RAN vendors are now pushing small cells, not all of them are talking about specific ways to ease installation and deployment, allowing some vendors to distinguish themselves by touting aspects of product design that address this concern. Alcatel-Lucent, in particular, ‘gets points’ for recently unveiling a professional services offering targeted specifically at small cells.

Vendors trade off a number of advantages and disadvantages in various areas. For example, Huawei offers the smallest product (a clear benefit), but also the one that arrives latest to market (in Q4 2013, while some have had small cells on the market since 2011).

“The small cell opportunity is still in its early days, but it’s already becoming crowded with major incumbents and challengers, and differentiation on