Small cells are miniature radio access points characterized by low power and a small footprint and coverage range. They provide cellular coverage indoors and outdoors. They use the millimeter wave spectrum to send massive amounts of data at very high speed and low latency. Their range runs from 10 yards to just over a mile.
Small cells are at the heart of 5G wireless systems. As a comparison point, a typical 4G macro cell tower covers roughly 10 square miles. With 5G’s dense small cell structure, up to 60 small cells cover just one square mile. This significantly multiplies the wireless density, eliminates coverage blind spots, and ensures that no cell is overwhelmed by high data demand since so many cells are in sight of any single cellular user.
Small cells are tiny, typically the size of a backpack. They are mounted on street lights, light poles, and buildings. They require power, a backhaul cable or microwave for communicating to the cellular network, and permitted installation space.
There are three basic types of small cells. Femtocells are typically installed indoors with a range of 10 yards. They accommodate only a few users at a time. Picocells can support a maximum of 100 users in a range of up to 200 yards. They are used in large indoor areas, including airports and hospitals. Microcells can cover up to one mile and are often installed on traffic lights and utility poles in dense urban environments.