While vendors and industry commentators continue to predict that so called heterogeneous networks - networks comprising today's large and prominent base stations that create macrocells, microcells and picocells and even integrated WiFi networks - will be essential to provide the capacity needed from mobile networks Telstra continues to play down these technologies.
Telstra CTO Hugh Bradlow has gone on the record several times saying that Telstra sees no role for WiFi to boost coverage in its network. And while you might have expected Telstra to trumpet its small cell trial at Flemington along the lines of "We are trialling this technology to get early experience in preparation for the time when we will need to incorporate it into our network to meet the expected increased demand," Telstra's message envisaged a much more limited application.
It quoted Wright saying: "We believe this is an Australian first in deploying small cell networks and will be looking to see how this live field trial performs to consider if this is a technology we can integrate into our network for other large sporting events or community festivals."
If that quote had ended after "integrated into our network" I'm sure it would have more accurately reflected Telstra's intentions. I'm at a loss to understand why Telstra spun the announcement the way it did, unless it simply wanted to send a message to the world at large that Telstra is on the ball and alleviating a well-known problem - poor mobile services a major events where large crowds gather.
The day after Telstra announced its Flemington small cell rollout market research firm Informa Telecoms and Media issued its latest quarterly small-cell market status report saying: "the global number of small cells now exceeds the total number of traditional mobile base stations."
Commenting on Informa's findings, principal analyst Dimitris Mavrakis said: "The days of small numbers of expensive cell towers have given way to the era of high numbers of low cost mini access points. Without this change, the mobile network simply could not sustain the continued growth in data usage."
He added: "Although the bulk of these numbers (over 80 percent) are made up of residential femtocells, which will alone overtake the total number of macrocells early next year, they also include enterprise and public-access small cells. There are now 45 small-cell deployments including nine of the top 10 operators by revenue globally."
(Femtocells are very small base stations installed in the home or office and connected into the network over the occupants' broadband connection: They are offered in Australia by both Vodafone and Optus, but, again, Telstra has said it sees no need for them).
Informa said: "Virgin Media announced it is trialling LTE small cells in the UK ahead of launching its small cell as a service offering and Colt Telecom announced it is already in trials with a major European operator."
Virgin Media - a fibre network operator, not a mobile network operator - worked with two UK city councils - Newcastle and Bristol. In a white paper on the trial Kevin Baughan, director of wireless at Virgin Media Business, said: "While deployment of small cells can be seen as a key part of the puzzle towards meeting the explosive growth in mobile data demand, rolling them out is not without its own challenges.
"A key way to accelerate their deployment is to simplify the situation for both mobile operators and cities by creating 'small cells as a service'. Such an approach would allow the city to deal with a single 'host neutral' service provider that can then integrate their street columns into a simple package, which all mobile operators can simply 'plug in' to.
"The approach in turn allows each mobile operator to get access to multiple cities from a single supplier that can provide all the components needed for a small cell rollout."
Of course the mobile operators, individually, control the spectrum used for such services, which limits the scope of what a small cell as a service operator can do. However, no such restriction applies to WiFi and the pundits are equally positive about the roll of WiFi in future cellular networks.
Back in March, shortly after the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, another research firm, Strategy Analytics said: "The last month has dramatically changed the role of WiFi for mobile operators. WiFi was a hot topic at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, with infrastructure vendors realigning their products to integrate high performance WiFi into the 'All IP' mobile network."
The Alcatel-Lucent LightRadio small cells that Telstra has deployed at Flemington can have integrated WiFi, and Ericsson - the supplier of the base stations in Telstra main mobile network, recently acquired Canadian WiFi technology company BelAir to enable it to integrate WiFi into cellulr base stations.
Telstra may be planning more small cell rollouts at major sporting events and the like - but it's a very safe bet the company has much bigger plans for the technology.