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At this year's GITEX Technology Week in Dubai, it was clear that Huawei had a focused approach to small cells, because it hosted the only product-based event – The Small Cell Summit for key operators and industry partners. The underlying theme was that small cells play an increasingly important role in the evolution of mobile broadband (MBB) networks by increasing network capacity and improving user experience.

Small cells increase network capacity to meet ever-increasing demand for data

Demand for data connectivity is fueling global mobile broadband subscriptions and smartphone adoption. As 4G and large-screen smartphones permeate the market, video's share of overall traffic will continue to grow. Video will continue to dominate fixed-line traffic (~80% of traffic) and its share of cellular network traffic will grow rapidly, from around 40% in 2015 to 66% in 2020 in mature markets, and from 12.5% to approximately 40% across Middle East and Africa. In the all-IP near-future, a quality network experience will be even more crucial than it is today. Thus, following the evolution of data traffic over the last years, high-capacity demands can be expected for the future evolution of mobile radio. The continuing growth in demand from subscribers for better mobile broadband experiences, particularly for video, is encouraging the industry to look ahead at how networks can be readied to meet future extreme capacity and performance demands.

Small cell technology is an ideal solution for increasing network capacity, especially in areas with poor coverage or during peak-traffic hours. Small cells can also reduce the cost of deployment, support plug-and-play deployment, and create new business opportunities, driven by the technology's navigation capability, such as indoor navigation; targeted mobile advertising; and innovative customer service.

It is also one of the biggest opportunities for operators to offer the best network experience possible and effectively communicate this to the market to win or maintain market share as well as upsell consumers to higher ARPU price plans that include larger data allowances. It will also enable operators to cater to enterprises who will be able to deploy their own discrete networks to enjoy the benefits that current LTE networks offer.

Small cells will play a vital role in enabling the future

Based on the initial design and scope of 5G catering to traditional portable devices and IoT, the amount of spectrum available will need to be expanded by adopting new frequency bands and by using available spectrum more efficiently. Small cell deployments will play a vital role in high-capacity hotspots, and the spectrum for that could come from the 3500MHz band (3400–3800 MHz), where there is as much as 400MHz being used for fixed broadband wireless access and satellite services.

A potential key technology for 5G cellular networks is millimeter wave (mmWave) communication, which is expected to provide hundreds of MHz of bandwidth for wireless transmissions. However, the transmission distance of mmWaves has to be restricted to 100 meters due to propagation degradation in the atmosphere – an issue that can be addressed by small cell deployment. 5G networks will thus most likely be high-throughput and low-latency heterogeneous mobile networks based on the coordination of small cells with traditional cellular base stations.


Further reading

The Small Cell Market in 2016, TE0006-001222 (May 2016)

2016 Trends to Watch: Radio Access Network, TE0006-001158 (December 2015)


Srushti Ghisad, Senior Analyst, Middle East & Africa

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