Small Cells Delivering Big for 5G

5G is essentially a race to increase capacity for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). This includes improving throughput, ultra-low latency and the need to cater to the increased number of devices and IoT endpoints entering the network. The issue of network capacity for 5G is highlighted on the previous network congestion post. With Macro network build out cycles in 2-3 years (or more), small cells have become a “go to” solution to meet the needs of next gen 5G network buildouts.
Small Cells based on the deployment scenarios cover a range of low power transmission systems.


Small Cell         Coverage Area                 Number of Users             Use Case
Femtocell         10 to 50 Meters                10                                           Indoor (Residential, Small office)
Picocell            100 to 250 meters             32 to 64                               Indoor (Offices, Malls, Schools)
Microcell          500 Meters to 2.5 Km       Up to 200                          Outdoor

The deployment of small cells often carries advantages over the traditional macro network builds

1. Speed to Market – This is the primary reason MNOs have chosen to focus on small cells. Unlike Macro site deployment which requires time consuming processes for site acquisition, zoning permits and deployment, small cells installations may be completed quicker using right of ways, bulk zoning approval, and less unsightly equipment. Government entities have laid down new rules to help facilitate the approval process for municipalities as well as regulating the fees these authorities can impose on the MNOs. These rules streamline the approval process for 5g small cells further speeding deployments.
2. Costs – Small cells cover a small geographical area with high count of user density. Installation and deployment costs are a quarter of the cost of the macro network for serving the same number of users. The reduced footprint size of the small cells allows easy installation on light poles, billboards, buildings in an unobtrusive manner.
3. Flexibility – Small cells can be deployed on higher mmwave bands as well as unlicensed bands, making frequency planning more flexible and less complex.

Planning for Small Cells need to account for a variety of factors

1. The location of the small cell should be selected in a way it does provide traffic offload from the surrounding macro sites.
2. The user densities in the area need to be assessed by traffic maps, drive test, spot tests to ensure that the small cells are built close to the high user counts.
3. Small cells do need to have some distance separation with the macro sites to ensure the small cells are being utilized to the maximum and not overpowered by more powerful close proximity macro sites.
4. It remains important to understand the current and future traffic patterns; small cells provide the most bang for their buck by helping offload congested network nodes.

Small cells have become a key part in solving the capacity issues of the network expansion. The continued adaptability to the current and future radio technologies i.e. UMTS, LTE, LTE- Advanced and 5G-NR as well as the efficiency delivered by use of technologies like C-RAN make it one of the most important parts of the 5G evolution.

TTS-Wireless specializes in Planning, Design, Optimization of 5G Small cells through software, services and full turnkey engineering solutions. Our IMNOS platform provides a comprehensive tool to identify the high user density locations, congesting sites as well as the major KPI’s in a simple and intuitive geospatial interface making planning for small cells a methodical process. TechInsights provides process flow, tracking, reporting, and streamlined field to office delivery of the build out process providing consistency and transparency to the process.


Authors: Ravi Bachani and Gaurang Shukla

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