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Wireless Network Overview: What are Small Cells?


The need for mobile connectivity is increasing at an unprecedented rate. As more devices become reliant or wireless networks, it is necessary for operators to provide robust solutions that allow for high bandwidth, while also remaining power efficient. One approach that is being utilized by the majority of carriers in developing and developed markets, is small cell architecture. Unlike traditional cellular networks where large cell wireless transmitters serve wide areas with little flexibility, the small cell approach can enable operators to increase performance, even out to the edge of existing networks.


The Benefits of Small Cell Deployment on Existing Networks


The biggest benefit of small cell infrastructure is that it provides coverage for the increasing number of mobile consumers and independent devices (such as IoT sensors and machines) that are connecting to cellular networks. Before small cells, innovative solutions such as robust modulation and increased antenna deployments were utilized, however, these solutions were limited in terms of additional capacity and coverage extension.

Because small cell architecture utilizes additional base stations that extend the range of traditional cells, it is possible to offload the strain on larger cells without the need for costly investment. Wider coverage areas mean that individual devices can transmit data more effectively and with reduced power consumption. Because devices aren’t struggling to maintain connectivity over longer distances, there’s reduced need for data correction or retransmission of lost packets. For consumers, this can mean extended operating time for mobile devices, and for industrial and commercial operators, it can mean extended operating time for devices and sensors that rely on battery power.


Small Cells Beyond Public Infrastructure


While small cells can provide significant benefits for consumers connecting to mobile networks within cities and urban areas, small cell architecture can also be deployed in both commercial and isolated rural areas. Indoor premises often present significant challenges for cellular networks, especially when large cells need to penetrate through physical barriers. Indoor deployment allows for hotspots and low power base stations to provide reliable coverage in areas that previously would have been out of service, or that would have suffered from power-sapping signal degradation.

Remote coverage can also be used in rural areas or other isolated areas (factories, remote excavation, mining etc.).


Heterogeneous Small Cells and Beyond


Because small cells are extensions of large cell networks, mixed architecture of small and large cells is often referred to as heterogeneous network planning. A robust heterogeneous network will mean that devices can effortlessly switch between smaller cells on the edge of the network, or large cell sites when proximity and signal strength allow for higher efficiency. This type of architecture is already in widespread use with GSM carriers, and will allow for the increasing deployment of IoT machines in the coming years.


Small cell architecture represents essential progression in mobile network planning, and remains relevant even when challenged by emerging proprietary and open access low power wireless networks.


Where do you see small cells benefiting IoT? Let us know in the comments box below or tweet us @kadenzSearch

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