& cplSiteName &

Know Your Small Cell: Home, Enterprise, or Public Access?

Dan Jones

Not all small cells are created equal, so let's look at the key differences between the various small basestations that share the "small cell" moniker.

The central concept of a small cell is basically the same: A small cell is a diminutive, self-contained basestation that extends coverage at the edge of the macro network. In theory, such a unit can help fix voice and data coverage holes, add capacity where needed, and increase data connection speed. The crux of the idea being that the closer a user is to a cellular radio, the better the network performance will be.

Small cells, however, diverge into three distinct flavors from that point on. Here's how we categorize them:

Femtocells -- otherwise known as home basestations -- are the most mass-market member of the small cell clan right now. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) have sent out more than a million of these units each. Femtocells are backhauled over a user's cable broadband or DSL connection and can be used to conquer deadspots in the home, improve call quality, and improve mobile data speeds. The units can typically be deployed by the user themselves. (See Top 6 Small Cells Movers & Shakers.)

Enterprise Small Cells
Enterprise small cells are intended to provide coverage to all or part of a floor of an office building or other indoor space (and sometimes even an outdoor space) and are most often deployed en masse within buildings to provide blanket coverage. With the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, providing cellular coverage throughout offices is becoming crucial for many businesses. The basestations are typically backhauled over the enterprise Ethernet network. Enterprise small cells are often promoted as a less expensive alternative to distributed antenna systems (DAS) for providing cell coverage. This sector is starting to climb out of its hype-cycle with some deployments now underway. (See SpiderCloud Eyes LTE Enterprise Small Cells in 2014, Joint Qualcomm & AlcaLu Small Cells Due Mid-Year, Ericsson Expects Smooth Sailing for Radio Dot and Slide Show: Cisco's Small Cell Bureau .)

Public Access Small Cells
Public access small cells are basestations intended to improve voice and data coverage in large malls, stadiums, and outdoor public spaces. They can be mounted in buildings, on outer walls, or on lamp posts and other utility poles. These are the units that are proving most difficult to bring to commercial service, with many tests and trials still ongoing. In addition to the problems associated with site acquisition, this type of small cell is arguably the most difficult to deploy, often requiring new backhaul connections, and posing power supply challenges, especially when the units are located that might be mounted up a pole or high on a building. They also tend to produce more transmit power, so can pose more potential interference problems with the macro cellular network. (See Fibertech Claims US Small-Cell First, 3G, 4G & Wi-Fi: AT&T Plans Small-Cell Threesome and Small Cells: The Battle for the Lamp Post.)

Heavy Reading is predicting that there will be 700,000 public access small cells in service worldwide requiring new backhaul connections by the end of 2017. The wireless CTO of Taqua LLC , John Hoadley, recently told Light Reading that he expects up to 50% of all the public access small cells will require new backhaul connections. (See How Heavy Reading Called Small Cells Right.)

Here's some of the basic requirements for the different types of small cells.

Table 1: Small Cell Types & Requirements

Type Typical applications Radio connections Backhaul connections Number of simultaneous calls supported RF power output Coverage Range
Femtocell Indoor residential 2G/3G Home DSL/Cable Up to 8 Up to 20mW 5 to 20 meters
Enterprise Small Cell Indoor private & open access, outdoor private access 3G/WiFi (integrated multimode systems supporting 3G, WiFi and LTE arriving soon) Ethernet Up to 32 on 3G Up to 250mW 5 to 200 meters
Public Access Small Cell Outdoor & large in-building coverage (airports/ stadiums) 3G/WiFi (integrated multimode systems supporting 3G, WiFi and LTE in tests) Fiber/ Microwave/ Copper-over-Ethernet Up to 64 on higher-power units 250mW to 5 Watts 10 to 2,000 meters (rural sites will get better range)
Sources: Heavy Reading, vendor data

A note on terminology
I've stuck to femtocells, enterprise small cells, and public access as the terminology for this little primer. Others have used picocell and nanocell to describe the smaller variants of home and enterprise small cells. Metrocell, meanwhile, is the term often used to describe larger public access small cells. Given the profusion of differing terminology used in this industry it seems more helpful -- to me, at least -- to describe the small cell by the application for which it will be used.

If you agree, disagree, or have more to add on the definitions of small cells, please chime in on the message board below.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

(33)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 4   >   >>
User Rank: Lightning
2/21/2014 | 2:48:27 AM
Re: What About Security?
Hi Dan,

I agree that this is what used to be. but as US operators are exploring the ways to cope with that issue while deploying small cells, they found that 1588 with combination of boundary clock (BC) at the optical nodes (that brings the master clock accuracy closer to the edges) and transparent clock (TC) at the wireless backhaul links, does the job very well.


User Rank: Blogger
2/19/2014 | 5:23:54 PM
Re: What About Security?


Mark Wiess at NIST said that he thinks that European carriers are paying more attention to alternative sync methods than their US counterparts.
User Rank: Blogger
2/19/2014 | 5:22:31 PM
Re: What About Security?
Check this story from last year:

User Rank: Lightning
2/15/2014 | 3:14:09 PM
Re: What About Security?
GPS is needed only if the backhaul is not delivering SyncE or 1588 signalling. See the small cell forum spec for backhaul network to get more info about it.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/15/2014 | 1:52:49 PM
Re: What About Security?
@Dan:  I never even considered jamming -- how common would that be?  And for what purposes?
User Rank: Light Beer
2/15/2014 | 4:21:41 AM
Small Cell Forum Classification
Isn't it reasonalbe to classify the small cell as Small Cell Forum did like Home, Enterprise, Urban and Rural?


Home=Residential, Urban=Metro, Rural=Outdoor.....


User Rank: Blogger
2/13/2014 | 4:18:37 PM
Re: Which small cell is right for you?
I should credit Patrick and Gabriel with helpful suggestions and changes when I was putting this together.
User Rank: Blogger
2/13/2014 | 4:16:27 PM
Re: What About Security?
One of the bigger worries around LTE small cells is that they are supposed to GPS to sync with the network and they could be targeted with malicious jamming.
User Rank: Light Beer
2/13/2014 | 4:06:31 PM
Which small cell is right for you?
It's encouraging to see some intelligent analysis (Dan!) that explains the many varieties of "small cell" being developed. I suspect that as 4G penetration expands, we will see a blurring of demarcation between those defined as "public access" and those defined as "enterprise", mainly driven by BYOD inside the enterprise.
User Rank: Light Beer
2/13/2014 | 4:02:49 AM
Re: What About Security?
@smkinoshita: Yes security factors should be checked constantly. I think it's a vital factor since security controls everything. If there is no security then the real value of it is not there. So security plays a major role in everything that has been automated.  
Page 1 / 4   >   >>
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from Jonestown
Pokémon Go has taken the US by storm in a week, but it will look quaint in a few years' time as virtual reality games and apps arrive on 5G.
It wasn't much of a contest really!
Researchers at the University of Madison-Wisconson are taking the concept of 5G wearables to the next level.
More than a third of poll respondents think that IoT will kickstart 5G.
Like Apple, Facebook, and Google, Sony is examining the possibilities of 5G too.
Light Reading’s Upskill U is a FREE, interactive, online educational resource that delivers must-have education on themes that relate to the overall business transformation taking place in the communications industry.
Wednesday, July 27, 1:00PM EDT
The Changing Face of the Data Center World
Rodney M. Elder, Senior Solutions Architect, Equinix
Wednesday, August 3, 1:00PM EDT
The Central Office Re-Architected as a Data Center
Guru Parulkar, Executive Director, Open Networking Research Center, Open Networking Lab
Wednesday, August 10, 1:00PM EDT
Telcos & Open Source 101
Phil Robb, Senior Technical Director, OpenDaylight
Friday, August 12, 1:00PM EDT
The Role of Open Source in NFV
Jim Fagan, Director, Cloud Practice, Telstra
in association with:
From The Founder
In the first episode of a four-part series, Light Reading Founder and CEO Steve Saunders and Calix President and CEO Carl Russo drive around town discussing the disruptive mega-changes in the communications industry and where hope lies for service providers to meet the escalating demands of the cloud.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
VeEX Test & Measurement Solutions

7|25|16   |   08:57   |   (0) comments

Cyrille Morelle, president and CEO of VeEX Inc., talks test and measurement with Light Reading's Steve Saunders at BCE 2016. This includes innovative products such as VeSion Cloud-Based platform for network monitoring; MTTplus Modular Test platform for Access, Business, Carrier Ethernet, Transport and Core services; and OPX-BOX+ for Fiber Optics.
LRTV Custom TV
VeEX: Live From BCE 2016

7|25|16   |   03:20   |   (0) comments

VeEX's Senior Director of Business Development, Perry Romano, explains how VeEX provides tools to help install, maintain, monitor and manage network infrastructure efficiently and effectively. The portfolio of products on display include the RXT-6000, MTTplus and TX300s.
LRTV Custom TV
Real-Time Telemetry & Analytics for Intelligent SDN Orchestration

7|25|16   |   03:09   |   (0) comments

Packet Design CEO Scott Sherwood discusses how real-time network telemetry and analytics are enabling a new breed of SDN orchestration applications.
From the Founder
The Russo Report: Driving Disruption

7|25|16   |   07:44   |   (0) comments

In the first episode of a four-part series, Light Reading Founder and CEO Steve Saunders and Calix President and CEO Carl Russo drive around town discussing the disruptive mega-changes in the communications industry and where hope lies for service providers to meet the escalating demands of the cloud.
LRTV Custom TV
NetScout: Maximizing Enterprise Cloud for Digital Transformation

7|20|16   |   04:53   |   (0) comments

Light Reading Editor Mitch Wagner talks to NetScout CMO Jim McNiel about maximizing the benefits of enterprise cloud and digital transformation while minimizing potential pitfalls with a proper monitoring and instrumentation strategy.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Ciena's VP Offers a Career Crash Course

7|20|16   |   4:14   |   (1) comment

How did Ciena's Vice President of Sales, Angela Finn, carve out her career path? Simple, she tells WiC. She stayed true to her company, customers and principles. She shares her advice for women on how to be authentic and credible, as well as for companies that want to make a real change to their culture and practices.
LRTV Custom TV
NFV in 2016: Part 2 – Climbing the Virtualization Maturity Curve

7|19|16   |   06:56   |   (0) comments

Many of the initial use case implementations are single-vendor and self-contained. The industry is still climbing the virtualization maturity curve, needing further clarity and stability in the NFV infrastructure (NFVi) and greater availability and choice of virtualized network functions (VNFs). Interoperability between NFVis and VNFs from different vendors ...
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Versa Networks' Kumar Mehta on SD-WAN Managed Services

7|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

In Silicon Valley, Steve Saunders sits down with Versa's Kumar Mehta for an interview focused on why service providers are building SD-WAN managed services, and how Versa's telco customers are innovating.
LRTV Custom TV
Juniper Networks & The Evolution of NFV

7|19|16   |   06:01   |   (0) comments

Senior Juniper Networks executives talk to Light Reading Founder & CEO Steve Saunders about NFV developments and the recent independent evaluation by test lab EANTC of Juniper's Cloud CPE solution.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink Goes Beyond Managed WiFi

7|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

CenturyLink's managed WiFi allows enterprises, such as retailers and resorts, to track guest WiFi usage in order to help them better communicate with customers.
LRTV Interviews
AT&T Launches Network Functions on Demand

7|17|16   |   05:26   |   (0) comments

Roman Pacewicz, Senior Vice President, Offer Management & Service Integration, AT&T Business Solutions, discusses the operator's launch of its Network Functions on Demand service.
LRTV Interviews
Enterprise Pitch for Ciscosson

7|14|16   |   04:43   |   (0) comments

After seven months of near silence, Cisco and Ericsson executives publicly discussed details on their extensive partnership. Among the tidbits shared by Martin Zander, VP, group strategy programs, Ericsson, and Doug Webster, VP service provider marketing, Cisco: The partnership was initially launched to serve the service provider market, but is already gaining ...
Upcoming Live Events
September 13-14, 2016, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
September 27, 2016, Philadelphia, PA
November 3, 2016, The Montcalm Marble Arch, London
November 30, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 6-8, 2016,
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Five of the Top 10 most targeted countries in Check Point Software Technologies' global Malware & Threat Index for Q1 2016 are in Africa.
Hot Topics
Kevin Lo's Move to Facebook: Sign of Things to Come?
Patrick Donegan, Chief Analyst, Heavy Reading, 7/20/2016
Verizon's Next With VNFs
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 7/21/2016
Facebook Gets Its Drone On
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 7/22/2016
Ericsson Ejects CEO Vestberg
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 7/25/2016
Is Dish Going Down the Drain?
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 7/21/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
There's no question that, come 2020, 5G technology will turn the world's conception of what mobile networking is on its head. Within the world of 5G development, Dr. ...
I've enjoyed interviewing many interesting people since I rejoined Light Reading, but William A. "Bill" Owens certainly takes the biscuit, as we say where I come from.
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

Our world has evolved through innovation from the Industrial Revolution of the 1740s to the information age, and it is now entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by technology. Technology is driving a paradigm shift in the way digital solutions deliver a connected world, changing the way we live, communicate and provide solutions. It can have a powerful impact on how we tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. In this radio show, Caroline Dowling, President of Communications Infrastructure & Enterprise Computing at Flex, will join Women in Comms Director Sarah Thomas to discuss the impact technology has on society and how it can be a game-changer across the globe; improving lives and creating a smarter world. Dowling, a Cork, Ireland, native and graduate of Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program, will also discuss her experience managing an international team focused on innovation in an age of high-speed change.