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Chicago needs 84,500 small cells by 2015, world needs over ten million

October 19, 2011 // Jean-Pierre Joosting

Chicago needs 84,500 small cells by 2015, world needs over ten million

Chicago will need approximately 84,500 small cells to deliver truly high-speed LTE by 2015, with acceptable coverage and speeds, according to analysis from Picochip. To provide LTE everywhere in the US around 1.8 million small cells would be required, based on estimations on data growth and usage across the country. This is in addition to residential femtocells and Wi-Fi.

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The analysis models what will be required to deliver the advertised data rates consistently to users wherever they are. The capacity per cell is based on extensive simulations of traffic from projected device populations and traffic service types in 2015, incorporating propagation models and calculations of network efficiency and loading. Around 20,000 of the small cells needed for Chicago would be installed in malls and retail premises where demand for data is often highest. Other sites include airports, stations, office buildings and outdoor sites providing wider coverage in busy street areas.

The report was put together by Picochips CTO Dr Pulley, who also concluded that worldwide there would need to be in excess of ten million small cells to deliver comparable performance.

The US is already seeing widespread deployment of LTE, with basestations being deployed now to deliver next generation services. However, with relatively few users at present the networks are very lightly loaded, making it easy to demonstrate good data rates. In time, as there are more users, with a wider range of devices, the networks will become fuller and there will be a pressing need for many more cells.

Much of the discussion about LTE in the US has assumed 700 MHz, where the signal travels over a wider area compared to the higher frequencies elsewhere, however the purpose of LTE is for high speed data, said Doug Pulley, CTO at Picochip. My modeling includes actual traffic demands and network modeling. It shows why big cell towers, while still necessary, fall painfully short of being able to deliver on the requirements the citizens of Chicago will have by 2015. Small cells can deliver this and while the number may sound like a lot, these small boxes will be installed on existing street furniture and in buildings where you wont even see them.

"Macrocells can cover a huge area with pancake-thin coverage; that is fine if your business model assumes you will never have many users, said Rupert Baines, VP of Marketing at Picochip. But if you anticipate decent volumes of subscribers and associated traffic then you need a layer of small cells to supply all the capacity that is what your customers are paying you for. Coverage was the key metric for voice and 2G but it is capacity that is crucial in the world of mobile broadband and 4G and discussion of 700 MHz and macrocells ignores that change.

Picochip has full product support for both LTE FDD and TD-LTE small cell platforms. These can be single-mode or multi-mode, combined with HSPA and WiFi.

Chicago is hosting the 4G World conference and trade show at McCormick Place 24 27 October.

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