ABI Research’s latest forecasts for femtocells estimate largely flat volume shipments in 2012 relative to 2011.­ The shipments in 2012 are expected to contain 2.44 million units, similar to the 2.47 million units shipped in 2011. In total, ABI Research estimates 5.3 million units will be deployed by end 2012.

“We believe there is a large inventory of femtocells sitting with operators right now with operators having a slow burn rate, which has led to limited fresh orders in the first half of 2012,” says Aditya Kaul, practice director at ABI Research. “Silicon component suppliers have suggested that 1Q 2012 shipments were down 30% to 40% compared to 1Q 2011.”

Some of the slack in volumes can also be attributed to attention shifting from indoor femtocells to outdoor metrocells. Also, the recent consolidation in the market including Mindspeed’s acquisition of picoChip and Huawei’s exit from the femtocell market suggest that the indoor small cell market has been under some strain.

In spite of lackluster volume shipments of residential and enterprise femtocells plaguing the indoor small cell market in 2011 and 2012, ABI Research forecasts that growth is likely to pick up from 2013 onwards. Some of this growth stems from a refresh of inventory levels, with operators like AT&T, Vodafone, Telefonica, Softbank and Sprint being at the forefront of driving shipments in both enterprise and residential settings.

The recently concluded Small Cell World Summit in London also provided some encouraging signs. Vodafone’s Femtoplug announcement, which is sourced directly from French ODM, SagemCom, and is expected to be driven by Vodafone’s Connected Home division, suggests some level of maturity in value chain dynamics and operator go to market strategies.

The Enterprise and Consumer femtocell market will grow at a CAGR of 63% to reach almost 28 million units in 2017 for revenue of $3.4 billion. Consumer femtocells are the largest class of femtocells representing a 68% share of units in 2012 and 70% in 2017.