Small cell

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LTE Small cell operated by the German carrier Deutsche Telekom
A small cell situated in the terrace of a building in Bangalore, India

Small cells[1] are low-powered cellular radio access nodes that operate in licensed and unlicensed spectrum that have a range of 10 meters to a few kilometers. They are "small" compared to a mobile macrocell, partly because they have a shorter range and partly because they typically handle fewer concurrent calls or sessions. They make best use of available spectrum by re-using the same frequencies many times within a geographical area. Fewer new macrocell sites are being built, with larger numbers of small cells recognised[2][3][4] as an important method of increasing cellular network capacity, quality and resilience with a growing focus using LTE Advanced.[5]

Types of small cells[edit]

Small cells may encompass femtocells, picocells, and microcells. Small-cell networks can also be realized by means of distributed radio technology using centralized baseband units and remote radio heads. Beamforming technology (focusing a radio signal on a very specific area) can further enhance or focus small cell coverage. These approaches to small cells all feature central management by mobile network operators.

Small cells provide a small radio footprint, which can range from 10 meters within urban and in-building locations to 2 km for a rural location. Picocells and microcells can also have a range of a few hundred meters to a few kilometers, but they differ from femtocells in that they do not always have self-organising and self-management capabilities.

Small cells are available for a wide range of air interfaces including GSM, CDMA2000, TD-SCDMA, W-CDMA, LTE and WiMax. In 3GPP terminology, a Home Node B (HNB) is a 3G femtocell. A Home eNode B (HeNB) is an LTE femtocell. Wi-Fi is a small cell but does not operate in licensed spectrum and therefore cannot be managed as effectively as small cells utilising licensed spectrum. Small cell deployments vary according to the use case and radio technology employed.

Umbrella term[edit]

The most common form of small cells are femtocells. They were initially designed for residential and small business use,[6] with a short range and a limited number of channels. Femtocells with increased range and capacity spawned a proliferation of terms: metrocells, metro femtocells, public access femtocells, enterprise femtocells, super femtos, Class 3 femto, greater femtos and microcells. The term "small cells" is frequently used by analysts and the industry as an umbrella to describe the different implementations of femtocells, and to clear up any confusion that femtocells are limited to residential uses. Small cells are sometimes, incorrectly, also used to describe distributed-antenna systems (DAS) which are not low-powered access nodes.

Purpose[edit]

Small cells can be used to provide in-building and outdoor wireless service. Mobile operators use them to extend their service coverage and/or increase network capacity.

ABI Research argues that small cells also help service providers discover new revenue opportunities through their location and presence information. If a registered user enters a femtozone, the network is notified of their location. The service provider, with the user's permission, could share this location information to update user's social media status, for instance. Opening up small-cell APIs to the wider mobile ecosystem could enable a long-tail effect.

Rural coverage is also a key market that has developed as mobile operators have started to install public access metrocells in remote and rural areas that either have only 2G coverage or no coverage at all. The cost advantages of small cells compared with macro cells make it economically feasible to provide coverage of much smaller communities – from a few ten to a few hundred. The Small Cell Forum have published a white paper outlining the technology and business case aspects.[7] Mobile operators in both developing and developed countries are either trialing or installing such systems. The pioneer in providing rural coverage using small cells was SoftBank Mobile – the Japanese mobile operator – who have installed more than 3000 public access 3G small cells on post offices throughout rural Japan. In the UK, Vodafone's Rural Open Sure Signal program[8] and EE's rural 3G/4G scheme[9] increase geographic coverage.

Future mobile networks[edit]

Small cells are an integral part of future LTE networks.[10] In 3G networks, small cells are viewed as an offload technique[11]. In 4G networks, the principle of heterogeneous network (HetNet) is introduced where the mobile network is constructed with layers of small and large cells.[12] In LTE, all cells will be self-organizing, drawing upon the principles laid down in current Home NodeB (HNB), the 3GPP term for residential femtocells.

Future innovations in radio access design introduce the idea of an almost flat architecture where the difference between a small cell and a macrocell depends on how many cubes are stacked together.[13]

The transmitting signal from MBS weakens quickly once the Macro Base Station (MBS) signal reaches indoors. Femtocells provide a solution to the difficulties present in macrocell-based system. Thus, Femto Base Station (FBS) network coverage is one of the prime concerns in indoor environment to get good quality of service (QoS).[14]

Market Deployments to date[edit]

By December 2017 a total of over 12 million small cells have been deployed worldwide, with forecasts as high as 70 million by 2025.[15]

Small cell backhaul[edit]

Backhaul is needed to connect the small cells to the core network, internet and other services. For in-building use, existing broadband internet can be used. In urban outdoors, mobile operators consider this more challenging than macrocell backhaul because a) small cells are typically in hard-to-reach, near-street-level locations rather than in more open, above-rooftop locations and b) carrier grade connectivity must be provided at much lower cost per bit. Many different wireless and wired technologies have been proposed as solutions, and it is agreed that a ‘toolbox’ of these will be needed to address a range of deployment scenarios. An industry consensus view of how the different solution characteristics match with requirements is published by the Small Cell Forum.[16] The backhaul solution is influenced by a number of factors, including the operator’s original motivation to deploy small cells, which could be for targeted capacity, indoor or outdoor coverage.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Small Cells: Outdoor Pico and Micro Markets: 3G/4G Solutions for Metro and Rural Deployments – ABI Research". Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  2. ^ "Technology | Small Cells | Qualcomm". Qualcomm. 2014-05-13. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  3. ^ "Small Cells". Nokia Networks. 2016-04-26. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  4. ^ "Small Cells". Ericsson.com. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  5. ^ ""AT&T Cell Site Forecast"". steelintheair.com. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  6. ^ Chambers, David. "Femtocell History – FAQs – Technology". ThinkSmallCell. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  7. ^ ""Extending Rural and Remote Coverage using Small Cells". Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  8. ^ "Introducing the Vodafone Rural Open Sure Signal Programme". www.vodafone.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  9. ^ "Rural Small Cell site visit in West Wales". www.thinksmallcell.com. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  10. ^ "Small Cells to Play a Big Part in Network Architecture of the Future – IHS Technology". Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  11. ^ X. Kang et. al Mobile Data Offloading Through A Third-Party WiFi Access Point: An Operator's Perspective, in IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications, vol. 13, no. 10, pp. 5340-5351, Oct. 2014. {{|access-date=2018-02-19}}
  12. ^ "Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) – Light Reading". Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  13. ^ "Alcatel-Lucent forecasts 'death of base station'". Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  14. ^ J. Ghosh and S. Dhar Roy, "The Implications of Cognitive Femtocell Based Spectrum Allocation Over Macrocell Networks", Wireless Personal Communications,Aug.2016.doi:10.1007/s11277-016-3597-x
  15. ^ "Small Cell Market Status Statistics Dec 2017". scf.io. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  16. ^ "Backhaul Technologies for Small Cells, use cases, requirements and solutions". scf.io. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 
  17. ^ "Five ways to deploy small cells and the implications for backhaul". CBNL. 2012. Retrieved 2018-02-19. 

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