What is a Small Cell?

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Editorial Team - everything RF

Apr 4, 2019

A Small Cell is a miniature base station, specifically designed to extend the data capacity, speed and efficiency of a cellular network. These low power radio access nodes can be deployed indoors or outdoors, and use licensed, shared or unlicensed spectrum. They usually have a range from 10 meters to a few kilometers.

Mobile operators used Small Cells to extend their service coverage and increase network capacity. Their smaller range enables operators to re-use the same spectrum at short distances, thereby significantly increasing the network efficiency. According to a report by ABI Research, by December 2017, over 12 million small cells have been deployed across the globe. This number is forecasted to go up to 70 million by 2025.

Small cells were introduced in Release 9 of the 3GPP LTE specifications in 2008. They are an important element of network densification that adds more base station connections to the existing wireless infrastructure.

The Small Cell is connected to the core mobile network via the internet – So indoors, this can be done via broadband, and outdoors, it can be connected to the cloud using a backhaul solution.

There are three types of Small Cells are Femtocells, Picocells, and Microcells:

Femtocells - This is the smallest type of small cell that covers the radius of around 10 meters and can be used in home networks. In scenarios where a person has access to high-speed broadband but is unable to make phone call from anywhere inside their home, a femtocell can be installed. The Femtocell transforms a high-speed broadband connection into a usable cellular service that can be used to make phone calls and send and receive SMS text messages.

Picocells - A Picocell Covers the radius of around 200 meters. The Picocells are usually used at places with high crowd density - like festivals, stadiums, concerts and other large gatherings. Picocells are larger than Femtocells.

Microcells - Microcells are the largest form of Small Cells that can cover an area up to 2 kilometers. These are typically used to provide services in remote areas like villages and to improve service at the blind spots caused due to line of sight problems.