What is a small cell?

A small cell is a radio access point with low RF power output, footprint and range. It is operator-controlled, and can be deployed indoors or outdoors, and in licensed, shared or unlicensed spectrum.

Small cells complement the macro network to improve coverage, add targeted capacity, and support new services and user experiences. There are various types of small cell, with varying range, power level and form factor, according to use case. The smallest units are for indoor residential use; the largest are urban or rural outdoor picocells. Newer small cell designs include clusters of virtualized cells run from a central controller; and low power remote radio heads.

All form factors have certain features in common, including standard interfaces to the mobile core, and ease of design, deployment and ongoing maintenance. This is achieved using a variety of techniques including self-organizing network (SON), and the use of standard IT in-building network technologies.

The economics of small cells are optimal when they are based on common standards, from chips to interfaces and software. Small Cell Forum works to create these common frameworks so that small cells form the basis of a multivendor, multi-spectrum, multi-operator HetNet.

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