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Nov 08 2017

What do you do when the smallest macro base station is just too big?

Twitter:@stephanedaeuble

Miniaturization has been a continuous and amazing trend ever since the very first mobile phones were launched. The earliest near suitcase-sized devices morphed into the chunky bricks that were so trendy in the 1980s, and have continued to shrink right down to today’s power-packed smartphones that weigh less than 200 gm.

Meanwhile backstage, macrocell base stations have shrunk too. The early multi-cabinet monsters in large, air-conditioned housings have evolved into the latest generation compact base stations that can be carried and installed effortlessly by one engineer.

And yet, even these compact macrocell wonders are too big to deploy in many dense cityscapes where demand is at its highest. The mega-city need for connectivity is huge and growing rapidly.

Satisfying this booming urban demand calls for network densification. More and more access points need to be deployed ever closer together to provide the seamless coverage everywhere and huge capacity that urbanites want. Finding suitable sites in the right places for macrocell base stations is becoming, well, near impossible.

Break out of the macro mindset

The answer to densification is instead to escape the limitations of macrocell designs and use small cells that can blend into almost any surroundings. Small cell doesn’t translate into small performance though. The most powerful units today offer the same performance, capacity and coverage as a macro base station to provide high-quality services in all locations.

Nor does this approach mean scattering countless small cells across a city. Operators that break out of the macro-mindset are finding that surprisingly few small cell access points are needed to do the job. Just a couple of hundred low cost, easy-to-deploy units can transform mobile broadband quality in a sizeable city.

So, what can these small solutions do? Let’s list the top five uses:

  • High capacity for urban outdoor hotspots:Small cell capacity that complements the macro network is simple and low cost to deploy and can be deployed to target high demand locations
  • Fix outdoor coverage holes:Well-placed small cells are an easy and low-cost way to ensure customers are not frustrated by an unexpected lack of service or mobility issues
  • Rapidly boost urban indoor coverage with outdoor-in:Poor indoor coverage from rooftop macrocells set up to serve street level users can be overcome by cleverly locating small cells nearby and on adjacent buildings
  • Fill venues and events with capacity:Putting a few small cells in stadiums can bring huge capacity at events that attract large numbers of smartphone-wielding spectators
  • Support busy public indoor locations:Small cells are a very cost-effective way to provide coverage and capacity in large indoor spaces such as railway stations and other transport hubs.

As small cells technology has developed, it can offer capabilities that you might think are only possible in macrocell base stations. A good example is Narrow Band LTE (NB-IoT) and LTE-M technologies. Deployed on small cells, these technologies are a very cost-effective way to achieve indoor Internet of Things (IoT) coverage inside large enterprise buildings, as well as cost-effective IoT connectivity for sprawling industrial and other sites in remote locations without macro network coverage.

In addition, small cells can be complemented with Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC). This can deliver lightning fast, ultra-low latency services to support virtual reality and real-time, high-defintion video feeds. It can also process local data to make services even more appealing for nearby subscribers or enterprise users.

So, rather than searching around for sites to put macrocell base stations, and then suffering the lengthy and sometimes painful regulatory approval process, followed by the high cost of installation, why not have a rethink and opt for small cells instead? Their ease and simplicity brings a new level of flexibility to react to fast-changing urban demand and deliver innovative services that create new revenue streams.

Thinking small can be a good thing to do.

Check out our Small Cells website for more info.

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #smallcells

About Stephane Daeuble

Stephane is responsible for Small Cells and Flexi Zone global product marketing at Nokia. A self professed IT geek and gadget guy, he knows firsthand the value of high speed connectivity that Small Cells provide, and has been an active industry advocate on the role they will play in future HetNets and Ultra-Broadband. Connect with Stephane on LinkedIn