Most of those deployments will be of consumer femtocells. ABI Research estimates four million carrier pico base stations will be shipped each year by 2015.
Mobile Experts also sees a ramp up of investment in wireless backhaul for the carrier small cells until about 2013, with relatively steady spending levels between 2013 and 2016. Most of those connections will have to be wireless, for cost reasons.
Whichever technology is used to backhaul small cells, it has to be cheap, "it has to be massively cheap," said Andy Sutton, Everything Everywhere principal architect, access transport. "We have a financial envelope for small cells and it's challenging."
Cost is so important because small cells will have relatively low usage compared to a macrocell and there will be lots of sites to support. Compared with macrocells, small cells will cover distance of about 50 square meters or 538 square feet. That's an area about 23 feet by 23 feet.
One way to look at matters is that this is an area smaller than the range of a consumer's home Wi-Fi router.