Observers predict that by 2015 the volume of data exchanged wirelessly will surpass the volume of exchanged wired data. Many challenges become apparent when addressing this reality. How will the wireless systems handle this massive volume? And, how can we ensure that an acceptable quality of service will be maintained?
Service providers are already looking at solutions to address these issues, but the solutions need to be cost-efficient and scalable. So far, the best solution to handle the growth in bandwidth demand while keeping a good quality of service is to add small cells to the network. Not only does this solution meet customer needs, it is also a very cost-efficient and scalable way to handle the growth.
Small cells are categorized according to the range they are designed to cover. The three most common types of small cells are femtocells, picocells, and microcells. I will write about each type of cell in more detail in my upcoming blog posts, but for now, here's a brief description of each category:
- Femtocell – Typically used for home networks, femtocells cover a range with around a 10-meter radius. Femtocell devices provide local 3G coverage in a house, enabling mobile devices communicating with them to use much less power when transmitting (thus prolonging the life of the battery of the device). Femtocells are usually connected to the house’s broadband connection for communication with the outside world. As a result, femtocells reduce the amount of data handled by the nearby macrocell.
- Picocell – Picocells cover a larger area than femtocells, up to a radius of around 200 meters. They are often used to provide local mobile coverage inside businesses or to provide access to a mobile network in an indoor environment where the coverage would be otherwise blocked or of bad quality. They also can be used to add capacity to a network in very crowded areas, either as permanent infrastructure or as a temporary solution for festivals or gatherings.
- Microcell – Although the line between picocells and microcells is a bit blurry, “microcell” is usually used to describe cells that cover areas up to 2 kilometers wide. Microcells have multiple uses, including increasing the capacity of a network in crowded areas, replacing a macrocell in remote locations like small villages, and providing service in areas where line-of-sight problems cause blind spots in the normal coverage.
It seems certain that the future of mobile networking is tied to small cells and that they will become common place in our everyday lives. One thing for sure, the market for small cells is booming and will turn in a multi-billion dollar industry in the upcoming years.