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Home » 5G » How small cells can solve the densified 5G puzzle

An interview with:

Paul Senior

CEO at Dense Air

As mobile usage grows and more consumers adopt 5G, operators must meet network capacity requirements. This is where small cells come in.

Why do we need a densified 5G network? 

As 5G becomes a reality, there is pressure on existing mobile networks as all of us demand more mobile data. 

More user traffic is necessary per square metre and additional cell sites required to densify and increase the capacity of existing mobile networks. 

Mobile network operators need densification to happen rapidly because their macro sites were built when most people only used their phones for voice calls and texts.  

Macro sites are typically 300m – 500m apart in suburban areas and 150m – 200m apart in city centres. UK operators need higher frequencies to improve connection speeds for 5G.

Research by Opensignal reveals that EE and Vodafone can only access smaller channel sizes of 40MHz-50MHz in the 3.5GHz spectrum frequency band. Other countries can deliver faster speeds by using larger channel size or higher frequency bands, called mmWave. 

What role do small cells play in densification deployment? 

Small cells can help mobile operators meet capacity demands. They offer the same features and functions as macro cells but are smaller, lighter, consume less power and therefore are more efficient. 

Small cells complement 5G macro cells and can be deployed outdoor on public street assets or indoors in offices or shops where coverage is poor due to cell sites being too far apart or the use of modern building materials. 

How are small cell locations chosen? 

Networks’ local weaknesses are discovered using big data analytics. 

When a location is identified, a neutral host small cell network is deployed to reduce the cost of increasing capacity and improving coverage for multiple operators. 

What are the main opportunities for operators from 5G? 

If operators can convince consumers to pay for 5G there are profitable revenue opportunities. 

The potential is enormous to sell services related to the Internet of Things and machine to machine connectivity, for example.  

We are already seeing a move to 5G around products such as connected cars. 

Where operators will initially see big benefits is from working with industrial clients to develop private 5G networks to enable automation and drive efficiencies, and also through working with local authorities to create smart cities. 

Could 5G private mobile networks be a game changer for business? 

Super-fast 5G underpinned by small cell deployment and robust network management enables large scale manufacturers, for instance, to be more agile and operate their plants more flexibly.

Private networks are being built as shared neutral hosts across the world, and one of the key drivers for this is the need for hyper-dense networks for autonomous transport. 

In partnership with Dense Air, O2 is working at Millbrook, an autonomous vehicle test bed, to deploy 4G and 5G networks over an O-RAN solution. O-RAN enables mobile network operators to deliver better coverage in more places more often. 

O2 is working with Millbrook Proving Ground as the public and private network provider of 5G connectivity for the testing and development of CAV (Connected and Automated Vehicle) technology. The neutral host network will support collaboration on trials and tests of ITS (Information Transport Solution) networks.

Nowadays, connectivity is a necessity for both consumer and businesses, so a positive network experience is imperative.  

And what about cities? 

Smart cities are the future and 5G plays a crucial role.  

Spectrum owners are working with local government to make smart cities a reality. In Dublin, for example, Dense Air and Dublin City Council have developed a 5G mobile network extension service utilising city-owned street assets. This model is a blueprint for other small cell deployments in cities around the world. 

Dense Air owns and controls spectrum. It is expanding globally as its 5G “small cells as a service” (SCaaS) solution enables mobile operators to cost-effectively plug gaps in their 5G coverage. Part of Airspan Group, it deploys neutral host small cells in dedicated licensed 5G spectrum, including in Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, New Zealand and Australia. Find out more at 

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