Think Small! The Next Big Thing in Mobile Communications: Small Cell Technology

As they trend toward “big and ugly,” none of us would ever want a traditional cell tower in our back yard. But we DO want always-on access to the video, voice, and data communications afforded us by our smartphones. So without those metal monoliths on our skyline, how do we stay plugged in to the brave new world of rapid data exchange?

Enter the small cell! By compressing the major components of a cell tower – such as amplifiers and filters – into a man-portable device that is easy to install and low-profile, small cell technology is poised to take up a really big spot within the mobile communication landscape.

This has not escaped the attention of U.S. military operations. Because aside from being an eyesore, massive cell towers can put a serious damper on any type of communication that needs to be fast, mobile, and unobtrusive. It’s a bit difficult to imagine a mobile military base camp in a remote area lugging around the components of a traditional macrocell site!

It stands to reason that military leaders take smartphone capabilities into consideration when they think of their own missions and soldiers in the field.  Naturally, they want their troops to have access to the same fast and convenient information exchange that takes place in a standard macrocell environment.  But they’d like to lose the logistical and financial burden of large, permanent installations.

Emerging small cell technology has the capability to provide vehicle-based networks that go where the warfighter goes. Troops can have access to fast and secure wireless communications whether they are in a remote village or a temporary base camp. Small cells weigh less, can be deployed faster, and use less mounting equipment than traditional macrocells.

And small cell technology is not just more mobile than traditional cell towers; it is also costs less to deploy. The hardware costs alone for small cells are anywhere from eight to 12 times less than that of macrocells – and that doesn’t include savings on logistics and related expenses that can go into putting up big cell towers.

While these smaller cells can't handle the capacity of a full-scale (or macrosite) cell tower, they can be deployed in greater numbers, creating antenna arrays that provide substantial capacity. Additionally, unlike macrocell sites, small cells are relatively discreet and can be mounted in densely populated locations and urban environments.

LGS Innovations and its parent company, Alcatel-Lucent, address small cell technology with lightRadioTM, which breaks down the typical components of a cell tower and consolidates them in a device roughly the size of a baseball. In addition, cell tower antennas are combined and shrunk into powerful, less visible antennas (NOTE: link to previously written blog on antennas) that can address multiple frequencies and multiple standards.

Smartphones are here to stay. And the demand for anytime, anywhere communication will just keep rising as technology continues to evolve. Small cells are evolving too, and will help to pave the way for delivering mobile cellular networks and the smartphone device capabilities to our nation’s warfighters. And big, ugly cell towers aside, more efficient communications on the battlefield means increased preparedness and better protection for our troops.

Stay tuned! The second part of this series (NOTE: link to second part of series once it is published) will cover the other advantages of small cell technology and how it can provide advanced, secure networks within government facilities.

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