Small Cells, Big Opportunity

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Denver – The Cable Center -- The cable industry has a potentially big opportunity in front of it as mobile carriers increasing look to smaller cells that can support faster speeds in concentrated areas while also expanding the capabilities of their macro cellular networks.

That was one of the messages delivered here last Thursday (November 14) at the annual Women In Cable Telecommunications (WICT) Rocky Mountain Tech It Out event by keynoter Tom Lookabaugh, the executive vice president of research and development at CableLabs, who outlined several “themes,” or megatrends, that are poised to affect the cable industry over the next ten to 15 years.

The notion of “pervasive wireless” was among them, and it’s one that cable is in good position to address, despite the fact that others actually own most of the licensed spectrum, he said.

To build out a small cell infrastructure and to backhaul those bits require “a great wired network,” Lookabaugh said. “Who’s got a great wired network? We do.”

Cable, he said, can either participate in or merely be a spectator in this trend. “We want to participate,” Lookabaugh said. “We have an opportunity to consolidate and offer wireless services more broadly…Playing in the small cell game is going to be big for us.”

While CableLabs has clearly identified the small cell opportunity, so have some of the nation's largest MSOs. Time Warner Cable, for example, is already looking at way to offer “small cells as a service,” Greg King, SVP of business services product and strategy at the MSO, told Light Reading recently. That follows a recent report by the same publication that Comcast is believed to be testing mobile small cell technology.

And the cable industry continues to pursue strategies that involve unlicenced spectrum. Chief among them is Comcast, which continues to urge the FCC to free up more 5 GHz spectrum for unlicensed use in order to avoid Wi-Fi congestion and enable 1 Gbps speeds. Comcast and other MSOs that are part of a Wi-Fi roaming alliance are already using unlicensed spectrum to establish quasi-public wireless networks comprised of more than 200,000 access points, with 500,000 already seen as a future target. 

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