wireless network

The Impact Scaling Small Cells has on 5G

    The Impact Scaling Small Cells has on 5G

    The next evolution in cellular coverage beyond LTE is the theoretical 5G, which is presumed to be achievable through the widespread implementation of small cells. “Small cell” is an all-encompassing term that refers to low-powered radio access nodes that allow for both indoor and outdoor service, depending on its application. A large, dense network of these microcells, in contrast to the currently common macrocells, is required to achieve 5G, as the two principles that are emphasized in the theoretical 5G network are capacity and coverage.

    However, there are a number of challenges at each individual site associated with establishing an adequate power supply and backhaul. These issues, combined with regulations that vary by jurisdiction, prove that the scalability of the small cells can become a difficult process that will only increase in difficulty as the industry strives to achieve a 5G standard predicated on these ultra-dense small cell networks.

    The vice president of wireless network engineering at CommScope, Ray Butler, says the challenge regarding scalability is “probably the most relevant question right now. How do we get the capex and opex down on a per site basis to be able to deploy these tens of thousands of small cell sites that we talk about?” Capex and opex refer to the capital expenditure and operational expenditure of each small cell site, respectively, and prove to be a hurdle that must be overcome to justify the implementation of an ultra-dense network.

    Butler named several potential solutions, pointing to process efficiencies related to the enclosures and poles that would streamline and add flexibility of access to improve the rate at which the cells are deployed. Additional changes in the design and processes allow for a pre-configuration which would increase the speed at which the sites are made live. He went on to speak about the legislation in the municipalities where small-cell deployment will see an increase, mentioning there are laws being pushed in order to streamline the process of acquiring and setting up the sites needed for the networks. He mentioned that the acquisition of the sites is currently the most time-consuming process in the process chain, and that a lot of work still needs to be done directly with the municipalities to address the upfront capital expenditures as well as the long term operational expenditure and lease rates.

    Butler, speaking on the prospect of a 5G networks in the event that the challenges can be overcome, said, “It’s going to be a matter of, upfront, the small cells will be very laser-focused where they’re placed. They’ll be very strategically placed. I think as we get to higher density that the grid we’ve talked about for years will start to take shape in the denser parts of the network where there is data traffic demand that can justify that type of a build out. I think the other thing that will help is the revenue side of the equation. If a site can be leveraged for both fixed, wireless and mobility… I think that will be a much easier business case.”

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