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February 20, 2013

Providers Face Challenges Installing Small-Cells; Wireless May be the Answer

While the idea of small-cells continues to gain popularity, the technology faces obstacles to wide-scale implementation. In spite of such issues, small-cells remain an attractive option to providers seeking to increase capacity as demand for data from mobile devices is already high and expected to grow significantly in the next few years.

Installing small-cells outdoors has several difficulties that prevent installation beyond a limited number of sites. They typically have to be installed at locations that weren’t originally designed to accommodate them, such as utility poles or lamp posts. These locations do not have the same infrastructure as a cell tower, which can easily be wired for new cells.

By contrast, indoor installation of small-cells is less troublesome, since wiring is more accessible.

Government approval and the higher expenses that site owners often charge are two common problems with installing small-cells. In London, it is especially costly to install small-cells because of tight regulations. Since the power supply to these posts is unmetered, operators have to deal with an agonizing test process before a cell can go live.

According to a June 2012 IT World article, site owners are in the driver’s seat when it comes to charging for access to install small cells.

"The people that own the sites have realized how important they are to operators, and prices are going up rapidly year-on-year, and that is becoming a real problem around the world," said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa.

The key to solving these installation problems may come from wireless backhaul. Small-cells using this technology can be set up at sites where wired installations would be impossible, costly or difficult. They would still need power, space and approval from government regulators, but would operate without needing wiring for a connection. As long as the cell has clear line-of-sight to a radio linked to a wired network, wireless backhaul would work.

Otherwise, the cell needs access to a non-line-of-sight path around obstacles or to a radio operating below 6 GHz. DragonWave has developed such a radio. This technology has the advantage of being able to go around corners or other locations that do not have the line-of-sight access.

Cell phone service providers deal with the double edged sword of having lots of demand for their services, but that may be too high because they cannot keep up with it. Small-cells appear to be a great solution for offloading traffic and as long as the wireless backhaul approach is used, the probability of being able to meet the demand is much better.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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