Demand for more mobile capacity will drive deployment 5G small cells will accelerate significantly from 2025, according to ABI Research.
5G will be use a much greater variety spectrum than previous generations of mobile technology, with regulators that release a mix of low, mid and high radio bands, offering a combination of range and capacity.
High-bandwidth spectrum offers massive capacity and superior indoor propagation characteristics that support the most advanced 5G use cases. However, it has a shorter range than other bands, which means operators will need to densify their networks with more access points.
Small 5G cells
This greater diversity of spectrum, combined with Massive MIMO macrocells, has so far been sufficient to provide this capacity, but will likely become insufficient as the number of 5G devices and traffic volumes increase. ABI reports that data is growing by 63% annually and will reach 1,676 exabytes by 2026.
From now on, micro-infrastructure such as small cells will be critical to providing this capacity in areas where building new masts is not possible or existing technology is not suitable.
ABI Research predicts that there will be 12 million 5G small cells by 2027, overtaking 4G small cells a year later, with the deployment driven by advances in technology and form factors.
“5G small cells complement macrocells by increasing network capacity and expanding coverage in densely populated areas where signals are weak or unavailable. They also allow network operators to get more out of their existing spectrum [bands] using them more efficiently,” said Fei Liu, 5G infrastructure and mobile network industry analyst at ABI Research.
“Compared to previous generation small cells, 5G small cells face greater challenges in design and performance. 5G small cells will need to be smaller and lighter, while supporting high bandwidth, such as 100 MHz and 200 MHz. With 5G, there is a wider range of deployment scenarios, forcing vendors to provide end-to-end solutions to support any need.”