Engineers’ Roundtable: Small Cell Challenges

Small cells can be great for expanding wireless coverage and capacity, but there are certain challenges and considerations that come into play for operators planning a deployment. In today’s “Engineers’ Roundtable,” our experts share their thoughts on what those challenges are – and how to address them.

Mathew Dooley

Small cells allow operators to provide spot coverage/capacity in the areas that require it. Finding these areas and ensuring they will meet the design expectations will be critical to the success of these types of deployments. Traditional deployments of macro cells allow for a more forgiving iterative process to site selection. If a macro cell is deployed somewhat near the optimal location, the larger radius of a macro cell will generally allow for some flexibility.

With small cells, location is much less forgiving. In order to take advantage of the small cell, the location of the traffic and the physical location of the small cell require precise engineering. Incorrect placement due to physical limitations or improper design is costly and can actually hurt network performance.


Bhupinder Mann

I agree with Matt, but I also feel that identifying locations has improved by quantum leaps, thanks to the different levels of analytics and data bleeding from different network and social data resources (analytics which we currently use at TeleWorld).

To me, the major issues are real estate and the look of the solutions themselves. Most of the time, small cells will be deployed for capacity relief and coverage penetration in dense urban environments. Getting access to place a small cell at a desired location is the biggest challenge. Things are improving, though, and small cell solutions are looking physically better daily – they’re no longer eyesores.

Finally, I believe it is very important for the local authorities to understand the challenges of providing better connectivity to their residents. They’ll have to open access to these locations in order for this to happen.


Scott Robertson

I think Bhupinder summed up the two biggest deployment challenges, which are aesthetics and gaining the necessary approvals to deploy the small cell(s). Many times the former contributes to the difficulty of the latter.

I think there is also a mind shift that needs to take place in terms of the expectations by city officials, building owners, utility companies, etc. of how they will be compensated for small cell networks. Asset owners have become accustomed to seeing traditional macro site lease values in the $1,500 to $2,000 + per month range depending on the market. Given the larger serving area, that ROI could be justified against the number of would-be subscribers. For small cells, however, the number of sites increases significantly for the same target area, so the equation has to evolve for operators to justify small cell investment.

Ultimately, it’s imperative that operators are armed with the right data and analytics to make the optimal decisions for small cell location to minimize deployment times and maximize ROI.


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