It seems like everywhere we turn, all we hear people talking about is small cells in the cellular industry. From conferences to trade shows to online, it’s become the topic of discussion for every facet of the industry. So what’s all the fuss and why all the buzz? With this much conversation it’s become pretty clear that this much more than a passing trend.

With consumers getting ever more hungry for more speed and more data, the old standard of large cell sites covering an entire area is just not cutting the mustard. We’ve gone from voice-centric devices to data-centric devices. People demand instant access to video and large files, and the current coverage just can’t keep up with demand. Enter small cells. It’s the next step in the evolution of the industry to increase capacity and supplement coverage.

But what is a small cell? Is everybody even talking the same language? Are we heading towards an age of personal cell sites?

Depending upon whom you talk to, small cells are alternately called microcells, picocells and femtocells, and they can sit outside on a lamppost or fit inside a drop-down ceiling in an office building. Some people confuse small cells with a Distributive Antenna System (DAS) typically seen in arenas and stadiums. But despite the different definitions, everyone agrees small cells—in some form—are the next wave of technology in the industry and there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in the very near future.

So if everybody’s talking about small cells, why aren’t they the industry standard already? There are still many challenges before they can be rolled out nationwide. There are interference issues with multiple cell sites that need to be figured out. There are coverage issues in determining the most efficient use of space and resources. There are all kinds of technological issues as engineers try to wrap their heads around the new technologies. There are zoning issues and legal issues. And there are still real estate issues, even though a leased area shrinks down to the size of a broom closet or even smaller.

In every tech conference around the world, a large part of the dialog is devoted to small cells and the accompanying issues, and it may be a while before the dust settles. The first step in tackling the problems is admitting the industry is changing, and changing at a rapid pace. The old model of a nice, uniform grid of macro sites is long gone, and our entire industry is scrambling to redefine our networks. And though we may be a few years away from figuring it all out, all the current talk is definitely warranted.

It’s better to hear “small cells, small cells, small cells” now, than hear “uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh” in another couple of years.