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Small cell market to hit €2.1 billion by 2017 as LTE smartphone growth up 151%

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The small cells market is set to hit €2.1 billion by 2017, given the current pace of LTE rollouts worldwide, according to the Small Cells Equipment market size and forecast report from Infonetics Research.

As a result, 4G small cell shipments are expected to overtake 3G shipments by the end of 2013.

"2013 is shaping up as a kick-off year for small cells, driven by 4G small cells deployed for capacity upgrades," said Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research.

"AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless in the US, Vodafone in Europe, LG U+ in South Korea, and NTT DOCOMO in Japan have all announced major small cell plans, driven by the need to enhance the capacity of saturated macrocellular networks as they seek to deliver denser, higher-capacity coverage to tech-savvy populations in urban areas."

In addition, Infonetics found that backhaul is no longer an inhibitor to overall small cells growth, although it could remain an issue depending on location or mobile operator.

Wi-Fi is also a key area operators are working on as they formulate their plans for small cells deployments (read MWC 2013: Small cells – is the industry trying to run before it can walk?).

“Last year, we saw clear indications that picocells would have integrated Wi-Fi, and this has indeed materialised. Both technologies have similar range and power requirements, which may provide an advantage for picocells over microcells, as the dense cell option could have its own in-built offload option,” said report co-author Richard Webb, directing analyst for microwave and carrier Wi-Fi at Infonetics.

The research firm also released data showing that LTE smartphone units grew by 151 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, the second straight quarter of triple-digit growth.

Following the release of the iPhone 5, Apple has managed to regain its lead in the smartphone revenue market over Samsung with a 37 percent market share to Samsung’s 29 percent market share.

For smartphone unit share, Samsung still retains the lead. The global smartphones market grew by 51 percent from 2011, totalling €191 billion in 2012.

"TDD-LTE smartphones are also ramping fast, albeit from a much smaller base, despite a temporary dip in growth in the 4th quarter. In 2012, 5 times as many W-CDMA/HSPA smartphones shipped as LTE smartphones. By 2015 we expect LTE smartphones to overtake W-CDMA/HSPA,” said Julien Blin, directing analyst for consumer electronics and mobile broadband.

"Similarly in the tablet space, the growing popularity of low-cost LTE tablets, shared data plans, and improved LTE network coverage (especially in developed markets like North America and Western Europe), will drive LTE-enabled tablets to close the gap on Wi-Fi-only tablets by 2017."