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Up to 200 billion machines and sensors will be connected to the Internet of Things within the next five years, creating an unprecedented need for low robust wireless network solutions.


While LPWANs like Sigfox and others have been gaining momentum (and have enjoyed significant media coverage), it is important that we don’t forget the deployed technologies that we have in place, especially those that are readily available and cost effective.

Small cell mobile networks already exist in major markets, and they help to bring improved connectivity to the edge of existing macro networks, serving smaller pockets, especially in rural and urban areas. With the increasing adoption of IoT machines and sensors, small cell technologies have the potential to increase network penetration without compromising data speeds or power usage for existing and emerging devices.


How Small Cell Can Benefit IoT Connectivity and M2M Functionality


One major challenge for emerging IoT focused networks has been data speed and latency. While many of the emerging LPWANs have succeeded in maximizing battery life for sensors and devices, most are still limited when it comes to data packet size and transmissions per day.

Cellular networks are ubiquitous in every major market, and even in emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. This ubiquity is beneficial for carriers. IoT operators, and end users, because it means that there are readily available cellular networks that offer high reliability with relatively low cost.

With increasing small cell deployment, carriers will be able to;


  • Achieve network penetration in remote areas or indoors in urban environments.
  • Provide high bandwidth connections over LTE networks.
  • Overcome latency problems with emerging 5G specifications (< 1ms).
  • Support consumer, commercial, and industrial devices from a single network architecture.


Why Is Bandwidth and Latency So Important for IoT?


With the number of deployed devices increasing in the millions per year, communications, data processing, and storage requirements are increasing exponentially. In use cases such as large scale building automation, driverless vehicles, and even smart home devices, the machine to machine (M2M) bandwidth needs are reaching unprecedented levels. Complex sensor arrays can generate terabytes of data in a matter of minutes or hours, and it is often that the data needs to be passed back and forth between different devices within a single location, or even off to satellite sites, the cloud, or remote servers. To facilitate this, operators need reliable connections with strong signal integrity, significant bandwidth, and low latency. All of which can be provided by small cells on larger mobile networks.


Small Cell Networks Already Exist, Offering a Readily Available Solution


It is clear that demanding operators can’t rely on low bandwidth, low power network solutions, which is why small cell architecture is so appealing. Existing networks use a combination of small cell and large cell architecture, known as heterogeneous network design. This allows for consistent network coverage, regardless of whether devices are closer to a macro site, or on the edge of a cellular network.

Infrastructure companies like Huawei, Alcatel Lucent, and Ericsson have made small cell networks a significant aspect of their cellular network strategies, so deployment and coverage is will only expand in the near future. Couple this with the fact that we are right around the corner from 5G networks (lower latency and higher bandwidth), and it becomes clear that small cell will be a significant factor in IoT expansion and M2M communication in the coming years. Because devices won’t be limited by throughput, there is potential for greater innovation in the devices that will become available, increasing the benefits they can provide in consumer, commercial, and industrial environments.


Another Piece of the IoT Network Puzzle


Small cell networks provide solutions where edge network and interior building coverage is necessary. They allow for reliable connectivity between different environments within a coverage area, which is essential for devices that are portable or that are in constant motion. There is support for high bandwidth and low latency over LTE, and capabilities are expected to increase with the deployment of 5G. These benefits increase network reliability and facilitate smooth M2M communication.


Even though cellular networks are not the most power efficient wireless networks, and aren’t targeted towards low powered sensors, they do represent the most compelling option for high demand use cases where operators are unwilling to compromise on network performance.


Any challenges using small-cells in M2M applications? We would love to hear your comments, feel free to add them below or tweet them to us @kadenzSearch

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