Nothing small about the Small Cells in 5G - Tech | 5G, SDN/NFV & Edge Compute


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Nothing small about the Small Cells in 5G

William Clement Stone, a famous businessman once said "Small hinges swing BIG doors". That statement is very true with respect to 5G. With a promise of ubiquitous coverage, absolutely low latency and higher speeds, 5G's success is heavily dependent on the so called "Small Cells". Small Cells are almost like the building blocks for the 5G network. 

Small Cells are mini base stations that handle the radio signals, like the mobile towers.  Small Cells require very minimal power and space, unlike the large mobile towers in the neighbourhood. Small Cells can be installed on the top of a light pole or a building. Small Cells are not new to the wireless world. They were deployed in 4G networks too. However, in 4G networks, Small Cells were predominantly used to improve the indoor wireless coverage. In fact, a few years back, Service Providers thought that customers would pay for the deployment of Small Cells at their home or office, to increase coverage. However, that dream didn't become a reality. But, with 5G, small cells are again getting a lot of focus. 

There are three types of small cells that exist today - Femtocells, Picocells and Microcells.

Femtocells – Femtocells help the operators in quickly solving the network coverage problem. It takes a very long time for a service provider to install a mobile tower. However, it takes only a few days to power up a femtocell in the network. So, if there is a residential or an enterprise customer that requires extended wireless coverage, the operator can quickly deploy a Femtocell. Femtocell provides multiple benefits such as helping the service provider to offload the network congestion, provide better coverage and increase the data transfer rates. A Femtocell typically caters to 16 users and can provide coverage for a distance between 10 and 50 meters. 

Picocells – Picocells are similar to Femtocells in terms of functionality. However, their coverage area is 100 – 500 meters. Also, they can support 32 – 64 users at a time. Picocells are well suited for small enterprise applications.  

Microcells – Microcells are designed for providing wireless coverage to a large geographic area and suited for providing network coverage to outdoor applications such as smart communities. Microcells provide coverage for a distance between 500 meters and 2.5 kilometers. Microcells can support nearly 200 users at a time.  

A 5G network deployment would include a combination of these different types of Small Cells. Small Cells will help the 5G service providers in densifying the network. Some skeptics are worried about the impact of deploying hundreds and thousands of small cells in the city. People are concerned that the 5G radiations may impact human life and the environment. However, studies done so far, on the impacts of mobile tower radiation on humans are not conclusive. In the mean time, Service Providers are aggressively building their network and launching 5G services globally, by deploying Small Cells in almost every street corner. 

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