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Defining Small Cell in Wireless Industry Networks

Apr 08, 2016

Defining Small Cell in Wireless Industry Networks

"Small cells" is one of the more recent developments in the wireless industry. In a wireless network, small cells provide both coverage and capacity, indoors and outdoors. Their function in the wireless network is to increase capacity and to achieve higher radio density.

What Is a Small Cell?

Also known as a small cellular base station, small cells incorporate a few different technologies, but perhaps they are best described as anything that is not a standard macro site. It is the function they play in the wireless network that defines them Their function is to add capacity by shifting traffic away from the macro network. Small cells are about network densification, because they are used to resolve issues of network capacity in relatively small areas, such as hotspots, or other subset zones of the overall macro site coverage.

Besides helping provide seamless connectivity, small cells occupy less space. In crowded urban areas, operators can replace or enhance large cell sites using small cell solutions. This way, operators can effectively support more users by shrinking, or breaking, the size of each cell. The result is consistent data speed and fewer blocked calls in densely-populated metropolitan areas.

The following are methods of deploying small cells to expand capacity:

Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS)

Passive DAS are typically considered to be the original small cell solution. A DAS takes a donor feed from the macro-cell and uses fiber to distribute it to an outside space, or throughout a building. Active DAS has its own dedicated radio base station, which guarantees both capacity and coverage, thus enhancing the quality of both data and voice services.

DAS supports new traffic in areas that were not previously covered, and it also takes traffic away from the macro network in areas where coverage overlaps. DAS has become a highly efficient and effective method for eliminating dead zones and distributing wireless connections within large buildings.

Active DAS is typically considered for large areas like airports, malls, campuses, and so on, where Passive DAS with its bi-directional antennas and non-fiberoptic cabled connections is limited in terms of scalability. Either way, DAS achieves a wider reach because optical electrical signals are converted into optical signals via an optical repeater. These optical signals are then translated back into EMF waves.

We're also seeing low-power radio technologies like micro base transceiver stations and integrated pico being tested for fixing coverage and localized capacity.

Integrated Metro-cells.

Metro-cells are mini macro sites. They are capable of boosting network capacity. They are cost effective, and they can be installed quickly. In dense urban areas, they tackle most issues associated with macro cell site deployment by reducing zoning and site acquisition problems. Metro-cells are aesthetically pleasing because they are usually concealed by being affixed to street furniture, like lamp-posts.

Multibeam Antennas and Sector Splitting.

This is where one antenna is used to provide double the capacity. By using multibeam or twin-beam antennas, a sector is split in two, thereby doubling the capacity. This solution is used in high data traffic areas, where sectors in macro sites need to increase capacity, cover a large outdoor area, or penetrate a large building.

Because of the availability of the above solutions, it is not difficult to understand why small cells have become so popular, especially when operators are forced to deal with challenges like site acquisition and the ever-increasing growth of high usage areas where there’s an urgent need to increase capacity.

In today's world where customer loyalty is determined by the quality of service delivered, it has become even more vital for wireless network operators to have access to a range of solutions to cover these issues.

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  • Never knew that passive DAS are considered small cell solutions or that they’re the first. I’ve read about the uses for passive and active DAS but I gained a better understanding of the sophistication involved in making them work. Network densification is another new term for me but I think I’m wrapping my brain around it—or I think I am.

    David Steffensen on
  • Maybe I’m envisioning this from an artist’s perspective but I think it’s beautiful how these systems must look when constructed. It’s a gorgeous network that you build to make sure your cell phone has strong signals and can make calls without fear of being dropped. Fast data speed and clear calls all due to the way you use a DAS installation to make sure every nook and cranny of your building has strong signals. Beautiful and effective.

    T. Fuller on
  • The key here is making sure you plan out your system. DAS installation is the way to go for maximizing cell phone signals in a large area such as a college campus, shopping mall, or stadium. You want to make sure you have a consistently strong signal so that’s where the DAS design comes in. You plan out your setup so you make sure you have no dead zones, something we’ve all run into when we’re at the mall or a sporting event. With all the people around us using cell phones, I’m sure there’s competition for a signal which is why you want a system to boost your signal throughout the facility.

    Jorge Valequez on
  • I was reading about cell phone boosters and how they can help a residence, motor vehicle, and even a business. However, I’ve also read that DAS are the right fit in some cases such as stadiums (and some of the other ones mentioned). How complex is DAS installation? Is it something that you do a site inspection and then do some sort of DAS design to match the building? I’m curious about this because I have a friend who’s an engineer and I want to ask him about it.

    Shermie Douglas on

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