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AT&T is now expecting to start rolling out small cells that can support 3G, 4G, and WiFi late this year or early in 2015, reports Light Reading’s Dan Jones.

AT&T said last year it will deploy some 40,000 small cells and 1,000 distributed antenna systems, along with more than 10,000 new macrocells by the end of 2015. It’s a part of AT&T’s Project Velocity IP (or VIP), a three year $14 billion investment plan to expand and enhance the company’s wireless and wireline IP broadband networks.

AT&T’s Kris Rinne, senior vice president of network technology at AT&T Labs, gave Light Reading a quick rundown on its small cells in Las Vegas last week.

“Today, most of our small cells are UMTS or HSPA+,” she told Light Reading.

The operator, however, has been testing multimode small cells that support 3G, LTE, and WiFi in its labs since at least April 2013 and now expects to see these units “late this year” or “early next.”

Dan Jones adds, “the operator hasn’t broken out how many of those tiny radios might need new backhaul.” Cable operators, of course, bring their own backhaul on overhead coax.

LTE Relay stations, which utilize some of the end-user cell frequencies for backhaul, might be one solution. But AT&T is facing a spectrum deficit, unlike Dish, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint. Unlicensed 5 GHz and 60 GHz backhaul may not have the range and require a second antenna and radio.

LTE eNodeB gear is the basestation hardware that connects to a mobile phone. The primary suppliers include:

The mobile broadband market is valued at USD 1 trillion, according to a report by Yankee Group. By the end of 2013, Yankee Group forecasts 114 million active LTE connections globally, increasing to 258 million by the end of 2014.

As many as 11.5 million small-cell base stations could be deployed by 2018, up from just 168,000 today, according to a status report from the Small Cell Forum.

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