What Are 5G Small Cells? We Explain Everything!

Picture of John Gieske

John Gieske

Principal Engineer - LTE / 5G
What Are 5G Small Cells

So, what are 5G small cells? Have you ever been curious about it? In short, these miniature cells or radio units are a part of the network infrastructure to drive wireless technology. More precisely, they have low-powered cellular radio access to boost coverage and fill coverage gaps.


Indeed, 5G or fifth-generation network is changing the way we communicate, work, and live with its faster speeds, lower latency, and the ability to connect devices regardless of distance. Small cells play a huge role in this change and the creation of a new world. Now, MNOs do not require relying on large, centralized cell towers to distribute signals. 

By integrating small cells into the existing network, operators can significantly improve network performance, reliability, and user experience. These devices can help us achieve the full 5G performance. We can focus on deploying them in smart cities, autonomous vehicles, and other innovative applications.

Small cells are mini cell towers or miniaturized versions of traditional cell towers (macrocells). They can cover from tens of meters to a few kilometers. 


However, many people have a question, “What does a 5g small cell look like?” Well, these cells are about the size of a briefcase. Due to the compact size, these 5G small radio units can be easily installed on lamp posts, building walls, or other structures in dense urban areas, or even rural areas with spotty coverage.

Mobile network operators (MNOs) can deploy 5G small radios both indoors (like shopping mall and offices) and outdoors. So they are easier to deploy in various locations with high demand for cellular services.

5G Small Cells

Working Principles of 5G Small Cells

How do 5G small cells work? For sure, these tiny network components are a foundational element of the 5G network. Here is a breakdown of how these cells provide more reliable data transmission.

Radio Equipment and Signal Transmission

5G small cells utilize radio equipment to send and receive data for efficient and reliable communication. Their design allows for the aggregation of many small cells to create a single logical entity. In this way, they increase the network’s capacity and coverage.

High Data Rates and Low Latency

Small cells work to support superfast speeds and ultra-low latency. This capability is essential for the regular operation of 5G networks. Likewise, high data rates of 5G small cell antennas offer faster downloads, uploads, and overall data transmission. 

Denser Network Architecture

The latest generation of networks, or 5G requires a denser network architecture. And small cells can contribute to this densification by enabling the deployment of many low-power base stations in concentrated areas.

Millimeter Wave Technology

5G networks extensively use mmWave (Millimeter Wave) frequency bands. They are known for their high data rates but limited propagation characteristics. Now, 5G small cells boost signal strength for users by overcoming limitations caused by short range and obstacles (like buildings and foliage).

Improved Indoor Coverage

5G small radio units solve the weak signal issue in indoor environments by providing enhanced coverage and capacity. Due to their simplicity of installation, MNOs can give better network coverage in smart homes, offices, and industries. 

What Are the Types of 5G Small Cells?

With the roll-out of the latest generation of networks, 5G, small cells have taken on a new level of importance. Its journey began with 4G LTE femtocells, which are now 5G femtocells with significant upgrades in their performance.

Right now, 5G small cells are about three types: femtocells, picocells, and microcells. Let’s have a look at these types of small cells:

Types of 5G Small Cells

Femtocells

These are the smallest type of 5G small cells. Femto provides the smallest coverage area (30–165 ft or 10–50 m), suitable for homes and small businesses. Hence, these 100mW miniature cells rely on fiber or wired backhaul networks.

Generally, femtocells support a limited number of users simultaneously, between 6-18 users. The average cost of femtocells is around $100, excluding deployment charge.

Picocells

Picocells offer a larger coverage, more capacity, and transmission power than femtocells. These cells also use fiber or wired backhaul for data transmission. You can use these 250mW cells in indoor and outdoor areas (320-820 ft or 100-250 m coverage) like apartments, schools, hotels, or office buildings.

For the larger capacity, one picocell is ideal for 32-64 simultaneous users. Each unit of picocell may cost almost $2000, excluding the deployment charge.

Microcells

Microcells provide the largest coverage area among the small cells, typically around 1600-8000 ft or 500-2500 m. These 2-5W small cells for 5G use a wired, fiber, or microwave backhaul for data transmission.

MNOs can cover larger areas with microcells to fulfill the high demand for mobile data, especially in urban environments. One microcell may cost around $10K on average, excluding deployment charges.

How Can Enterprises Use 5G Small Cells?

5G small cells have a great impact on enterprise businesses to enhance their operations through better connectivity and compatibility to run advanced applications. They can build a private 5G network using different types of cells for secure data transmission.

These are some use cases of 5G small cells in enterprises:

Enhanced Connectivity and Coverage

Businesses can deploy small cell solutions to ensure robust indoor and outdoor coverage. For small to medium enterprises, femto and picocells are better. Microcells are more suitable for better coverage. Enterprises that need reliable and low-latency communication can build private 5G networks using these cells.

Support for Mission-Critical Applications

5G high-power small cells enable applications like remote monitoring, telemedicine, and real-time data transfer. Hospitals can also use Radio Unit 5G to ensure proper connectivity for medical devices and communication systems. Enterprises and logistics companies, especially, can use small cells to support massive IoT deployments.

Improved Capacity and Performance

5G small radio cells are more preferable for environments with high user density, like shopping malls, and corporate campuses. For the compact design, enterprises can build denser networks with small cells. These networks can enable more efficient bandwidth reuse, faster data speeds, and more reliable services.

Cost-Effective Network Expansion

MNOs and enterprises can save a lot of money by setting up a network with small cells. In this way, they can extend network coverage and fill coverage gaps. Plus, they can save more energy than deploying a macro cell tower.

Advanced Technologies

If you run a business, you can adapt to new, advanced technologies like Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) and heterogeneous networks (HetNets). Moreover, small cells can work with existing LTE networks. So, it can be a good way to transition from 4G LTE to 5G without extra expenditure.

5G Small Cell Use Cases

5G Small Cell Use Cases

Installation Challenges – How Nybsys Can Help You

Building a private 5G network with small cells may have some challenges. It may include managing power consumption, following regulations, and integrating with existing infrastructure.

Managing Power Consumption

Small cells, especially those operating in higher frequency bands like mmWave, require substantial power to function effectively. This requirement poses challenges in terms of sourcing sufficient power, especially in urban areas where space and power availability can be limited. Nybsys provides more energy-efficient radios to save more power.

Regulatory and Approval Processes

Regulatory approval processes can significantly delay the deployment of 5G small cells. Local and national regulations govern the placement of small cells, including restrictions on where they can be installed and who can install them. Being a licensed and govt. approved company, Nybsys can deploy integrated small cells in different environments.

Integration with Existing Infrastructure

The compact design of 5G radio units is helpful for deployment on different premises. Still, they may often need to be mounted on existing structures. Nybsys engineers are experts in integrating the cells without any hassle with the existing network infrastructure.

Technological and Operational Complexity

Operators must navigate the intricacies of coordinating small-cell deployments. They must manage network performance and ensure service level agreements (SLAs) are met. Nybsys automation and software-defined networking (SDN) solutions can mitigate these challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions

You may call them by their types: femtocell, picocell, and microcell.
5G small cells provide localized coverage and increased capacity for 5G networks. They are particularly useful in dense urban environments where buildings can block signals from traditional cell towers.
Fiber optic connections are the preferred method for connecting 5G small cells. They offer several advantages such as high bandwidth, low latency, and more network consistency.

Contact us today for 5G small cell deployment in your residential and commercial space. We will be happy to provide robust equipment to set up a private 5G network for you. 

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