Are macro sites under threat as 4G Networks to be built with small cells?

Cell:cm has learned the new mobile network will be built on small cells, and this month’s Mobile World Congress will feature scores of shrunken, low power base stations designed to boost capacity and quality of service for rising tides of data. These metrocells are becoming a commercial reality, many of them drawing on techniques pioneered in the residential femtocell space. To reflect that, and expand its influence to the public access market, the Femto Forum is changing its name to the Small Cell Forum in time for the MWC show.

Wireless news and research business “Rethink Wireless” reports the industry body’s remit will now embrace standards, policy and market awareness for all kinds of small base stations – for residential, enterprise, rural and metrozone use, and including indoor and outdoor, and public or private access deployments.  90% of small cells will still be residential in 2012, the Forum believes two-thirds of revenue will come from public access products. While this is unlikely to silence the semantic arguments over the differences between picocells, metrocells, femtocells and so on, at least the adoption of the umbrella name reflects the common architectures on which many of those variants will be built.


The Forum and its key members have spent the past few years pushing a residential technology into a broader arena, and arguing that many techniques previously considered applicable only to consumer grade gear were actually suited to carrier class infrastructure. System-on-chip platforms with low power and low cost will be as essential to public access base stations as to femtocells, as will qualities like self-provisioning and no-touch management. So, while specialist femto companies like Picochip have pushed into the metrocell area, traditional network chip suppliers like Texas Instruments have borrowed many femtocell techniques for their latest ‘base station on chip’ designs.


Reflecting that trend, the renamed Forum will “serve to develop consensus on common approaches, standards and agreed best practice for all small cells that operate in licensed spectrum, are operator-managed and feature edge-based intelligence”, said the organization’s statement. It will also continue to make submissions to industry standards bodies like the 3GPP, and will work with bodies governing related technologies which also address the capacity crunch, and are likely to work alongside metrocells as often as compete with them. These include Wi-Fi, Cloud RAN, Distributed Antenna System (DAS) and HetNet. The key role of the Forum is to “tackle the practical challenges facing deployment” such as interaction with other cells and technologies, backhaul or site planning.


How does this impact on macro cells (rooftop antennas and ground based towers), existing site providers want to know? Macro cells will still form the backbone of wireless networks.

“If your site is a good one at the moment, no amount of femto-cell deployment will change that” Andrew Cranston, Cell:cm director, said yesterday. Networks will continue to need well placed antennas and high level sites. “This is also good news for many high street businesses and occupiers who may well be approached for femtocell installation. Anyone who receives an approach from an operator or its agent should take advice from a specialist firm of Chartered Surveyors before agreeing any terms.”



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