According to a study by ABI Research, the demand for more mobile capacity will significantly accelerate the deployment of small 5G cells from 2025.
5G will use a much wider variety of spectrum than previous generations of mobile technology, with regulators releasing a mix of low, mid and high band airwaves, offering a combination of range and capacity.
Highband spectrum offers massive capacity and superior indoor propagation characteristics that support the most advanced 5G usage scenarios. However, it has a smaller range than other bands, meaning operators have to compact their networks with more access points.
5G small cells
This greater variety of spectrum, combined with Massive MIMO macro cells, has been sufficient to deliver this capacity so far, but is likely to become inadequate as the number of 5G devices and traffic volume increases. ABI says the amount of data is growing at 63% annually and will reach 1,676 exabytes by 2026.
From this point on, micro-infrastructure, such as small cells, will be critical to deliver this capacity in areas where building new towers is not feasible or existing technology is not suitable.
ABI Research predicts that there will be 12 million 5G small cells by 2027, and a year later, the number of 4G small cells will catch up, with deployments driven by technological advances and form factor.
“5G small cells complement macro cells, increasing network capacity and expanding coverage in densely populated areas where signals are weak or unavailable. They also allow network operators to get more value from their existing spectrum [bands] by leveraging them more efficiently,” said Fei Liu, 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure Industry Analyst at ABI Research.
“Compared to the previous generation of small cells, 5G small cells face more design and performance challenges. Small 5G cells need to be smaller and lighter while supporting larger bandwidths such as 100MHz and 200MHz. With 5G, there is a wider range of deployment scenarios, forcing suppliers to provide comprehensive solutions to meet every need.”