As a complement to the macro network, small cells continue to be a big deal when it comes to the broadband infrastructure. Whether it’s the smallest units (contained for indoor residential usage) or large picocells (prevalent in urban and rural outdoor deployments), small cells improve coverage, add targeted capacity, and support new services. This comes from the fact that they make optimal use of available spectrum through the reuse of the same frequencies many times within a geographical area.
Now, the next wave of small cell innovation is emerging with major suppliers taking their product portfolios to new levels. This includes clusters of virtualized cells running from a central controller, low power remote radio heads, and ‘mini-macro’ base stations, which are designed for high performance outdoor usage. In addition, the migration to 5G is set to provide a more open ecosystem, thus reducing the barriers for suppliers of all sizes.
Use cases for the technology are taking hold on a large scale with global cities putting in place plans that leverage small cells as part of smart community initiatives. For instance, take the launch of the ‘Smart London Plan’ in which residents generate the data that helps the city manage its transport, social, economic and environmental systems. Digital technology presents opportunities for the capital to use this data to function better, and for citizens to help shape solutions. This could lead to the roll out of half a million small cells across London.
And in the U.S., regulators have called for regulatory reform to streamline site approval processes, highlighting FCC proposals to reduce site review procedures and costs, and exclude many 5G cells from these. This benefits U.S. operators preparing for urban small cell roll-out.
On another front, efforts are being made to ensure new buildings are being designed with small cells in mind. Small cell equipment vendors and service providers are coming together to develop a set of generic, solution-neutral design guidelines focused on cheaper, faster and more reliable deployment of small cells. Such innovation tackles the issue of poor indoor mobile coverage head-on, in which solutions like DAS have proven costly. The next phase involves the development of standards, certification and training around making buildings small cell ready.
Through it all, the most optimal use of small cells comes when they are based on common standards, from chips to interfaces and software. Organizations like the Small Cell Forum continue to work to create these common frameworks that allow small cells to form the basis of a multivendor, multi-spectrum, multi-operator heterogeneous networks. In 2017, TIA formed a partnership with Small Cell Forum to help accelerate smart cities and enterprise connectivity.
Engage in a TIA working group or educational program to be at the forefront of this fast-evolving field.
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