Sunday 17 December 2017

Small Cells Densification for 4G & 5G

The recent Small Cell Forum (SCF) press release mentions that: SCF forecasts that between 2015 and 2025, new non-residential small cell deployments will grow at a compound annual rate of 36%, to reach almost 8.5 million, and by 2025 deployments will be 22 times higher than in 2015.

The research also provides an insight into operator’s densification plans, with 40% of operators expecting to deploy between 100 and 350 small cells per square kilometer (indoors and outdoors) in the areas they densify by 2020. Additionally, in the first 2-3 years of deploying 5G New Radio, 58% expect to focus primarily on small cells. The research also shows that the industry is already seeing acceleration of deployments in the Enterprise, where small cell deployments rose by 98% between 2015 and 2017, and are set to grow by up to 1600% from 2015 to 2025.

In addition, SCF also published Release 10 (not a permanent link though), a collection of documents, presentations and videos that present the organization’s vision for the 5G era. This collection is a response to the requirements the Forum spent the summer collating resulting from regional and partner events in India, North America and Latin America. SCF listened to input from operators, across the various geographies, on their key challenges and created a work program designed specifically to resolve the key issues raised.

I will link some SCF documents at the bottom of this post.

Stephane Daeuble, Nokia also published a blog post on this topic not long back. In that he points out:

Nokia looked at the growth in demand facing one operator in a very busy US city. In 2014, traffic density was around 1 Gbps/km2 and was served by an average 20 macrocell sites per km2.

By 2017, traffic density hit 4 Gbps/km2. The operator simply adds 40 outdoor small cells and 50 indoor small cells per km2 to the network. Deploying relatively few small cells allows the operator to meet quadrupled capacity and coverage demand, both indoors and outdoors.

Let’s project these figures forward. By 2025, the operator will need a very dense network to support a ten-fold increase in traffic density. With no scope for deploying more macrocell sites and upgrades to macrocell base stations unlikely to meet the demand, even this extreme density can be supported with the help of small cells. Now we are looking at 150 outdoor and 500 indoor small cells deployed per km2, keeping to the intial 20 macrocell sites. Over the period covered by the study, the average inter-site distance plunges from 240m to 82m – a figure impossible to achieve without small cells.

The most obvious advantage of small cells is their compact physical size. They can be deployed unobtrusively to meet city regulations, giving the network a rapid, yet low cost boost in performance. Not only do they provide much-needed extra capacity and improve indoor coverage, but small cells can aid network balancing by off-loading traffic from the surrounding macrocells. Deployments have shown that, after deploying small cells, some macrocells stay above 60% average RF usage, indicating there was substantial unserved traffic with the macros alone.

If you prefer in-depth technical papers, this IEEE paper on small cell Ultra Dense Networks (UDN) is an interesting read.

Check out my introduction to macrocells & small cells and HetNets if you are looking for a quick refresher on these topics.

Here is a list of new SCF documents on densification

SCF Release 10 Vision for Densification into 5G Era

Overall Vision and Requirements gathering
[SCF110] Vision for densification into the 5G Era: Release overview
[SCF200] Ten trends SCF has driven and vision for 2027
[SCF201] Partners’ Day: Industry alignment on densification roadmap
[SCF202] Mumbai Densification Summit: Asia Market Requirements

Technologies for Densification
[SCF014] Edge Computing made simple
[SCF197] mmWave-based 5G eMBB 5G

Standards and Interoperability
[SCF085] SCF Plugfests and long term vision
[SCF208] Private ePC PlugFest report
[SCF209] Test cases for the Private ePC PlugFest
[SCF196] TR196 Small cell updates to 3GPP SA5

[SCF203] Operational aspects of densification into the 5G Era
[SCF079] Enterprise deployment process (2017 revision)

Business Models
[SCF204] 5G Era business models and stakeholder engagement
[SCF206] Business case for small cells in healthcare

Market Status and Engagement
[SCF050] Small cells market status report December 2017
[SCF194] SCF operator survey: Deployment plans and business drivers for a dense HetNet
[SCF205] Connectivity in healthcare - an essential service

References of the form [SCFXXX] are linked to their landing page on, where they can be downloaded free of charge.

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