The small cell market may not live up to all the recent hype, according to a new study from Infonetics Research

“To the small cell vendors of the world, we know what you want to hear, but what you need to hear is that the small cell market simply isn’t going to explode as many are predicting,” wrote Stéphane Téral, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at Infonetics Research.

Infonetics found that the majority of operators surveyed are still using distributed antennas (DAS) in their mobile networks for coverage. Despite all the talk about using small cells to boost capacity in large venues, operators still believe DAS will remain a fundamental tool for places like malls, airports and stadiums.

"Yes, small cells are poised to play a major role in 3G and 4G network expansion, but operators are going to pick the right tool for their needs, be it coverage, capacity or both; indoor, outdoor or both," Téral wrote, noting that small cells aren’t always the right solution.

Infonetics found that the top drivers for deploying small cells are optimizing in-building coverage and high data usage areas, and non-expandability of the macro network. However, fully 80 percent of respondent operators currently use DAS in their cellular networks for coverage optimization.

Operators said interference with the macro network was the top barrier to deploying small cells.

"The bottom line is, small cells -- I’m not talking about residential femtocells here -- remain a tiny market compared to macrocells, and will take time to reach meaningful penetration," Téral said.