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SCF publishes first 5G small cell definitions

Prabhakar Chitrapu w.jpg

The first 5G small cell network architecture and product definitions have been published by the Small Cell Forum (SCF), in a bid to prevent industry fragmentation.

The study aimed to provide a “consensus view and concise definition” of the types of 5G small cells being rolled out now and in the near future. It included definitions of the key characteristics of the different types of commercially viable 5G small cell RAN products that will be available over the next five years; including 3GPP and O-RAN Alliance 5G disaggregated open RAN specifications – work that covers macrocells, but also includes microcells and picocells.

In addition, it covered the key configurations and specifications for companies deploying small cells between now and 2025.

“In the early days, small cells looked fairly similar, regardless of the environment in which they would be deployed, and were easily distinguishable in size, weight and power output from other mobile equipment. In the 5G era, small cells will be deployed in a far wider range of scenarios, and form factors and architectures will be extremely varied,” said Prabhakar Chitrapu, chair of Small Cell Forum.

Informed by a comprehensive survey of operators, small cell deployers and other supply chain members, SCF said the study will provide a “valuable reference” for the ecosystem, governments and regulators.

Chitrapu added: “The form factor, power, size, interfaces and specification will vary according to the use case and deployment scenario, and with the introduction of virtualised, disaggregated networks, some small cells will consist of two or three elements, while others will still be all-in-one. It is clear that old definitions are now inadequate, and there are clear and present dangers of the industry fragmenting between hundreds of different designs with insufficient common features to achieve any scale.”

On network architecture, the study analysed the capabilities small cells will require to support in any combination of architecture and deployment environment.

It stated that, in the 5G era, no single design or specification can meet every requirement across all the scenarios. Instead, it will be important to “optimise small cell designs and specifications for each environment, to encourage adoption and drive new usage, especially in the enterprise, industrial and campus settings where many new use cases for dense cellular connectivity are emerging”.

Vicky Messer, director of product management at Picocom, said: “Small cells, or femtocells as they were previously known, have played an increasingly important role in wireless networks since their introduction more than a decade ago. One would have thought that a small cell is well defined; however, it has taken significant effort to work out what a 5G small cell is.

“It has been a great pleasure working with industry colleagues over the past few months on this SCF 5G small cell architecture and product definitions paper. As a result, we now feel we have a definitive answer,” Messer added.