Industry Consensus: Don’t Wait for 5G Rollouts To Install Small Cells

When should local authorities look to install Small Cells in their localities? The pioneering technology looks set to be a critical component of 5G networks, allowing cellular network providers to deliver micro capacity and coverage to power a wealth of next-gen functionality and applications that will need always-on connectivity. The key benefit to deployment of small cells is that it effectively allows networks to be densified, patching coverage holes, optimising signal strength and improving capacity in line with growing consumer demand – and of course, meeting the needs of 5G connectivity. The previous consensus was that local authorities should install small cells in line with, or just in time for, the rollout of 5G.

Now, however, an increasing number of industry experts are urging a different mindset on small cells deployment. David Orloff, chair of the Small Cell Forum, commented on how ‘integral’ small cells are for 5G technology in his May speech at the World Summit in London: “The reality is that there are capacity needs and latency needs…both of these aspects can be driven through integration with Small Cells.” The barriers to entry look to have caused a particular reticence to the Small Cells market within Europe, which Mr. Orloff noted was “lagging”. While over 10 million Small Cells have been deployed globally, the rate of adoption is too slow at this date. More generally too, says Orloff, “we need a mindset – we have densification needs in the entire global industry, and we need solutions to ensure the framework and foundations are there. In Europe there is a question about the business case, and whether it is profitable to do densification.”

Despite this initial reticence, experts predict the employment of Small Cell technology will explode in Europe over the next five years, with the number of non-resident Small Cells deployed in Europe tipped to rise from 52,000 last year to 310,000 by 2022, and a recent report by Deloitte stated that demand for outdoor small cells solutions – which account for about a third of the current market – is expected to grow by a factor of six by 2019. This is in line with growth of consumer demand for fast mobile data connectivity; by 2020, global mobile data usage is set to increase nearly six-fold.

The Barriers To Entry: What has been holding local authorities back?

One of the reasons Small Cell adoption has been relatively slow to date, despite the consensus that the technology will be pivotal to successful 5G rollout, is that conventional network deployment and roll-out strategies may not function so easily in the era of Small Cells that is to come. Small Cells make network design a more complex task, as planners must choose precise locations for the sheer number of installations required to ensure seamless connectivity. Cooperation across large and sprawling city geographies, and between functions of local governance, is therefore essential.

Existing protocols for decision-making and local planning regulations have also slowed or deterred adoption in some cases. A lack of consistency with regulations mean, in some instances, authorities have had to make individual planning applications for every Small Cell. This causes clear impracticalities for a setup which typically requires the deployment of thousands of cell units.

Some stakeholders have been put off seriously considering Small Cell installations due to today’s prevalence of 4G LTE installations, and the fact that this technology is in wide usage. But even with widespread Small Cell adoption on a large scale, LTE deployments are not going to disappear. As Irvind Ghai, another speaker at the Small Cell Forum, commented, “4G and 5G will coexist because 4G has brought new applications of its own such as IoT, high speed mobile broadband and private networks. The 5G small cell…is also Power over Ethernet capable, so you can use it in the same network”. So, it appears there is no reason to not be making steps towards the implementation of Small Cells imminently. The technology should not be considered 5G-specific, rather a necessary advancement that can also enhance existing technologies and help local authorities smoothly bridge into technologies of the future.

Why Now For Small Cells?

Small Cells offer a host of unique properties that are certain to make them the method of choice for local authorities considering a connected infrastructure to boost cellular connectivity and coverage. They are nimble, can be installed quickly, and are much more cost-effective than conventional towers. The fact Small Cells can be installed (more or less) anywhere means that coverage gaps can be plugged and higher frequencies can be achieved to tackle larger capacity requirements, making entirely new radio architectures possible. The kind of blanket coverage this will ultimately mean across metropolitan areas makes them ideal to support the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, with sensor-enabled wireless devices creating a new world of interactivity between urban management functions.

With the importance of small cells rapidly growing, taking a proactive approach is critical for local authorities looking to position themselves aptly for the future. To iron out potential setbacks, local authorities are increasingly looking to trial new technologies early over small, specific areas of a locality, such as within dedicated Business Improvement Districts. In these testing areas, innovative new digital infrastructure can be trialled with small populations and local businesses, and a continuous feedback process ensured.

IntechnologyWiFi’s integrated connectivity, data, communications, and engagement platform for towns and cities can provide the perfect platform from which to progressively move towards a Smart City and the innovative technologies it utilises, such as 5G and IoT. To learn more about Small Cells and their application within future Smart Cities, or find out about our complete Smart City Platform, which is fully compatible with the technology, please get in touch.

Natalie Duffield

Natalie has spent 20 years working in the IT and Telecommunications industries alongside leading tech entrepreneur Peter Wilkinson. A confident, tactical, strategic thinker, and a dynamic CEO, Natalie has experience in a wealth of areas, including managed services, cloud computing, hosted services and outsourced infrastructure, data centre space, virtual server storage environments, telephony and networks.

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