Reducing Barriers for Small Cell Deployments

As next generation wireless networks are deployed, the use of higher frequencies will require more cell sites. Higher frequencies mean shorter ranges, requiring more radios and antennas to be deployed to support our population’s growing thirst for wireless data.  Thankfully, it doesn’t mean that we need hundred-foot towers in our backyards with ugly hardware attached to it.  The majority of radios that need to be deployed to support 5G networks are small cells, which as the name implies is a small piece of hardware that can be placed on a pole, roof or mounted to the side of a wall. It’s larger than the Wi-Fi router that powers your home, but not much bigger.  Millions of these small cells are expected to make up our next generation network – the FCC expects that 80% of deployments for 5G or densification of 4G will be small cells moving forward.  

While the equipment has vastly improved in size and appearance, there are still many barriers that prevent small cell networks from being rapidly deployed, thus slowing the availability of 5G wireless broadband services for most of the planet.  Many of these barriers can be overcome by taking a new approach to small cell deployments as opposed to relying on traditional processes employed by network operators for macro cell (tower) network buildouts.  

Site Acquisition

Traditionally, the locations of wireless access points are carefully planned by the network operator.  Once the locations are determined, teams of people knock on doors to find property owners willing to host towers and radios.  Permits are obtained, contracts are drafted and eventually neighborhoods enjoy cellular service.  But this process is very manual requiring a number of people with different skills to acquire the land necessary for a single tower.  

Copying these same processes used for the development of thousands of macro cells, and then applying them to build millions of small cells, means we could be waiting years, if not decades, to see a complete network of small cell radios. 

Site Operations

Traditionally, skilled technicians installed and maintained radio antennas and base station equipment at tower locations.  A great deal of work is required for the communication backhaul and power lines that go into each tower / radio site, and a lot of knowledge is required to properly configure the equipment – a scenario not likely to change for macro cell equipment. 

Small cell equipment, however, is very different.  The required skills for installing and operating a small cell is slightly more complex than a Wi-Fi router, but not significantly so.  A small cell is similar in many ways to a Wi-Fi router, but with longer range.  Thus, applying operational processes used for macro cell deployments to small cell deployment initiatives can prove to be overkill. 

Host-Operated Model

Airwaive uses a host-operated radio model to remove some of the barriers of small cell deployments, making it faster and cheaper to deploy.  Under Airwaive’s approach, some of the traditional processes are automated in software and controlled by the operator.  Others can be managed by property owners (hosts) resulting in reduced personnel resource requirements for operators and their field tech partners. 

For example, many of the tasks associated with site acquisition can be automated with simple rules to value a wireless coverage area with hosts signing up and staking claims through simplistic Internet apps.  Certain, more advanced tasks for small cell radio management can be handled by the operator remotely with virtualized radios while basic tasks can be performed by hosts themselves.

With Airwaive, network operators can overcome barriers to achieving cost effective and timely small cell deployments by re-thinking long standing network buildout strategies and using a host-operated business model that has proven transformative for many other business sectors.



March 26, 2021

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