The demand for mobile data has been growing at an exponential rate since cellular communication technology hit the market over three decades ago. Showing no signs of slowing down, network providers are now pressed with the task of rapidly boosting capacity through the deployment of 5G wireless technology.
Some estimates predict network capacity will need to increase ten-fold over the coming ten years in order to meet data traffic demand. 5G technology makes such an increase possible, but how the expansion plays out will look very different compared to new cellular technology generations of the past. Specifically, the rollout of 5G will rely much more heavily on the installation of many small cells as opposed to fewer large radio towers.
A shift in priorities
During the initial phases of cellular network implementation, the primary goal of providers was to achieve broad signal coverage over a large populated area. The idea was to provide a minimum level of mobile service to the largest possible number of subscribers.
To expand reach, large, high-power macro-tower sites were added to cover additional geographical areas.
Today, the goal has reversed. Providers now need to provide a maximum level of mobile service to increase capacity in densely populated areas. The idea is no longer to extend coverage but to feature higher data throughput over the coverage area that already exists.
The need for additional wireless spectrum
One method for achieving higher data capacity is by accessing additional wireless spectrum in higher frequency bands. However, while high frequency signals can carry exponentially larger packets of data, they cannot travel the same distance compared to slower data sent over lower frequencies.
As such, the higher the frequency, the closer together radio sites must be located. Small cell installation solves this challenge while offering additional benefits to network operators.
The power of small cells
Small cell installation involves the deployment of a dense network of small radio sites, particularly in large, urban areas with high data traffic congestion. The shorter distance between sites allows for a wider range of frequencies to operate, leading to far greater capacity.
In addition to amplified data throughput, small cell networks reduce installation costs to the provider by eliminating the need to run fiber between sites. Traditional large site installation requires a heavy investment not just in fiber but also in the cost of labor for trenching.
A robust small cell network increases the radios per subscriber while providing improved signal quality and more efficient data transfer. And because installation is simpler and more affordable, network operators will now have the flexibility to add more radio sites when needed. As demand rises, more small cells can be added to quickly increase capacity.
Balancing coverage with investment
Designing and planning network expansion involves the careful balancing of licensing additional spectrum with building new radio sites to achieve the most efficient equilibrium between coverage, capacity and cost. With 5G wireless technology, a balanced mix of increased spectrum with a high density of small cell sites offers the most economical solution.
Small cell drives capacity while offering the lowest expansion cost, which is why we can expect small cell to play a significant role in the infrastructure of 5G networks.
Akoustis’ innovative ultra-wideband high performance XBAWTM process and filters will give 5G small cell devices the power to manage never before seen performance and data throughput.
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