Making your building ‘small cell ready’ – the guidelines

How do you make your building (or buildings) small cell ready? That is the question we tackle in a new set of guidelines published today, the aim of which is to make small cell deployment cheaper, faster and better. In this blog, our Chief Strategy Officer Julius Robson explains how SCF members have worked together to develop ‘Making buildings small cell ready’, a set of generic, solution-neutral design guidelines for adoption by the real estate and design industry.

To help ensure that good-quality, large-scale deployments are possible, SCF is working to ensure that new buildings are designed with small cells in mind. Our equipment vendor and service provider members have been working together to develop a set of generic, solution-neutral design guidelines that, if adopted by the real estate and design industry, will make small cell deployment cheaper, faster and better.

Why are these guidelines so important? Firstly, building owners know that tenants are increasingly insisting on good indoor mobile coverage. However, it’s perhaps not obvious what both parties can do to fix coverage when it’s poor. DAS is recognised as a solution for this, but it’s expensive to install. There’s also uncertainty around when – or even if – operators will connect to it. A growing number of building owners and tenants are now using small cells to provide excellent mobile indoor coverage and capacity, as well as carrier-grade features like PBX integration, content caching and precise indoor location. Our deployment stories provide a number of real-world commercial case studies.

DAS, of course, is a stadium-sized solution that is being scaled down. Small cells, by contrast, started out as a SOHO solution that has been scaled up, first to address SMEs. They’re now going well beyond this market, with very large deployments at trade shows and airports, and as enablers of smart cities.

Although small cells are well suited to retrofitting onto a building’s existing LAN infrastructure, the best balance of performance and cost is achieved by designing-in the hooks and eyes for a small cell system during construction. This essentially boils down to reserving sufficient wall space and electrical power for equipment, as well as pathways and ducting for cabling. And while any one solution provider will be able to provide detailed designs for their system, it’s clear that such a bespoke design service cannot scale to keep up with the rate of market adoption.

Clearly a balance must be struck here, as one of the reasons that cellular ‘just works’ (and Wi-Fi often doesn’t) is because mobile networks are well designed and engineered. (The other reason is that the cellular industry has invested a lot of R&D dollars on sophisticated self-organising network technology, but that’s another story)…

Longer term we’d like to see standards, certification and training around making buildings small cell ready. With that in mind, we’re working with the TIA’s Smart Building Working Group to help build our guidelines into the larger set of requirements around smart buildings.

Right now, however, the first draft of ’Making buildings small cell ready‘ is available on We encourage everyone to download a copy and put these guidelines to use. We fully expect to update these as we learn from our members’ (and others’) experience of using them, so please get in touch if you have any constructive comments. We are keen to hear any feedback on how these guidelines can be improved.