The battle to implement 5G is on, with countries like the United States, China, and South Korea leading 5G trials and commercial take-off strategies. In the U.S. alone, Accenture predicts these next-generation networks could eventually add $500 billion to the economy.
The 5G networks will be powered by small cells—compacted base units that are installed every few hundred feet. These antenna units will offer mobile 5G customers with dependable data services and seamless data handoff.
Small cells are critical for 5G distribution due to utilizing the millimeter wave spectrum (mmWave). Most LTE service use lower frequencies with more signal range. To compensate and fulfill the desires of next-gen services like smart cities, remote medicine and the Internet of Things (IoT), it is essential to guarantee that they are installed in appropriate density.
Their tiny proportions make the cells simple to install on objects such as light poles, kiosks, billboards, and on the sides of buildings in an unobtrusive manner. However, getting the necessary zoning approval for their placement has been challenging, yet progress is being made. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just approved a mandate to streamline 5G infrastructure rollout.
Advantages of Small Cells
Small cells take as little as 30 minutes to install, making it easy for communication service providers (CSPs) to meet mounting data traffic demand with superior speed and cost effectiveness. The great density of a small cell network also permits network developers to more intelligently target usage hotspots based on an assortment of factors such as capacity and coverage requirements, high-value users, and customer churn susceptibility.
The fundamentally different type of wireless network is expected to be critical in offloading traffic from present network towers. Also, it should allow CSPs to accomplish more targeted and efficient use of spectrum. For example, the short broadcast area of 5G means that similar frequencies used by one small cell to connect with customer devices could be salvaged in a different space to serve additional customers.
Together with artificial intelligence and real-time analytics, SD-WAN will be fundamental in developing the most value from small cell-powered 5G networks. An SDN/NFV-based control plane allows for the flexible and efficient allocation of network services to satisfy users’ different quality-of-service (QoS) demands. Small cells will be critical in making network slicing possible.
The density of small cell networks—which can use five to 20 times more cells than LTE—will also upsurge challenges of how they can be continually enhanced to deliver the best possible network performance. It means that automation using technologies like SON (self-optimizing networks) will be imperative—and even more so when mass-scale adoption of IoT hugely increases the total variety of network elements.
Virtualization of small cell networks will allow network operatives to offer and control large numbers of access points better. In this situation, compact clusters of cells in a high-traffic area could share a centralized controller that allows network resources to be allocated flexibly in accordance with traffic patterns. As 5G continues to evolve, the capacity to remotely upgrade entire clusters of small cells will be quite valuable.
SD-WAN resolutions also make isolated branch offices (RBO) easier to support. When combined with 5G, end users will experience significantly enhanced performance in applications such as video-conferencing, cloud computing, and remote access.
While they do require significant upfront investment and a sharp learning curve from previous generations of wireless networks; Small cells will be a foundation of future 5G deployment, and essential to delivering fast, reliable, and efficient 5G services.