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Big roles for small cells

Small cells have many applications, such as enabling 5G, powering DAS systems and providing location-based services, as Sam Fenwick reports

Small cells may be less familiar to the typical person on the street than their Wi-Fi access point counterparts, but vendors expect them to play a much bigger role in future, once 5G roll-outs take place.

Amit Jain, SpiderCloud Wireless’s VP of product management and marketing, says: “Most carriers believe that small cells will be almost essential for 5G. I don’t know how you would do a macrocell covering a few kilometres with millimetre wave (mmwave) – the propagation characteristics of that spectrum wouldn’t allow you to do that.” He expects that a lot of 5G deployments will use outdoor small cells and that indoor 5G small cells for enterprises will take longer to bring to market, “but will be an essential part of any 5G roll-out”.

Nick Johnson, ip.access’s CTO, is broadly in agreement. “There’s a laws of physics reason why small cells are imperative for mmwave and we’re at the early stages of our mmwave small cell story.” He notes that in terms of sub-6GHz 5G deployments, his company feels that it is in a good position as it can modify its 3.5GHz product “to make something that would be 5G New Radio-like, maybe with much wider channels, much wider bandwidth, much greater throughput”. That said, he believes the initial 5G deployments in the sub-6GHz band will be with macrocells.

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