Small Cells Demand a New Deployment Model

Macro cells have gotten the job done for a lot of years, but because we’re using our smart devices for much more than just phone calls these days, the wireless industry is scrambling to increase network capacity.

Imagine that the models below depict network coverage in Anytown, USA. The model on the left shows the coverage of a traditional macrosite network, where a macro cell is located in the center of each of the coverage circles. You essentially have four macro cell sites covering this section of town. Historically, wireless network infrastructure has been designed with this coverage model in mind. Carriers mounted high powered sites on the top of a building or on the top of a tower oftentimes focusing on providing coverage—the key word there is coverage—for anyone who had a cell phone.

Enter small cells. They’re not mounted on giant towers and tall rooftops; they’re much lower—on light poles or even inside buildings. While small cells are low powered and provide coverage over a much smaller area, they do significantly reduce the amount of traffic on a macrosite.  Therefore, in order to solve capacity issues, carriers are supplementing the existing macro cell network with small cells. In the illustration on the right, we have an example of a small cell “underlay.” Let’s say this is a section of town that’s a densely populated area or a place where people tend to congregate. The majority of people who use data on their phones here are stationary—they’re at their office, they’re at their home, or they’re at a coffee shop. There could be a large number of tourists taking a bunch of photos and videos of themselves and loading them up on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. Now their signal has been offloaded from the macro cell to the small cell and thus the available bandwidth of the macro cell has increased.

The macro cell network has traditionally worked quite nicely—from a voice and text standpoint. But when the smart phone and the thousands of subsequent apps came in, we started uploading and downloading video and demanding high-speed access to the internet, and it just doesn’t work well enough anymore.

The sheer volume of small cells being deployed over the next three to five years in order to meet capacity demand has created a new reality and carriers can’t use the same financial and deployment models for indoor and outdoor small cells that they’ve traditionally used with macro cells. They’re going to have to keep costs down and move faster.

According to the CTIA, there are just over 300,000 macro cell sites in the US today, and over the next five years there are going to be tens or hundreds of thousands of these micro cells coming out at a much faster rate than we ever deployed our traditional macrosites. We need a new model. We need better trained people, better tracking software (we have to get rid of the Excel deployment trackers and the weekly half-day calls spent to review them) and more advanced processes to manage the sheer speed and volume and meet exploding demand.

The new wireless network is designed for intelligent coverage, with increased capacity where we need it—high-density areas. The challenge will be deploying and managing all those new sites in an expeditious and economical way.

Md7 partners with wireless companies, helping to manage cell site leases, landlord relationships and all their real estate-related challenges. Through best-in-class recruitment of key talent, extensive training and forward thinking technology, Md7 is uniquely qualified to deliver effective solutions both now and into the future.

February 26, 2014
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