Let’s cut the small cell crap!

Everyone is going to deploy small cells, right? I hear it daily. 

We are going to deploy smart poles in a smart city to improve 5G so that the AI can take over the world. To do that we need small cells deployed everywhere.

By the way, what is a small cell? If you listened to the carriers pushing their agenda they would say it’s no larger than a pizza box. That’s easy to say, but what is no larger than a pizza box? Does a pizza box radiate RF? Does a pizza box have 4G and 5G technology in it?

The way I see it, a small cell is a highly overused term that really doesn’t apply to 90% of outside deployments. 

I can’t believe the misconception out there. 

When I started to work on small cell models over 10 years ago, the thought was, and the carriers wanted, a very small, all in one, cell site in a box. Many indoor small cells are like this, but the outdoor small cell model was never deployed in mass. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but let’s just say, the carriers got what they wanted only to reject it and never mass deploy them.

Why did the outdoor small cell fail to live up to expectations?

Several reasons. Let’s count the ways, shall we?

  1. It was not much cheaper to lease a pole than it was space on a tower. The carriers overcame this obstacle with the help lobbyists, FCC, WIA, and lots of money.
  2. They thought site acquisition would be cheaper, guess what, it’s really not.
  3. They thought that backhaul would be cheaper and easier to get. Maybe wireless. Guess what, the technology changes and now we want fiber or a very robust wireless backhaul, which was slow to come about.
  4. They thought that fiber would be cheaper to run to poles. Again, it cost a fortune to dig the trench, but even if it’s overhead fiber, it wasn’t any cheaper. 
  5. They thought the small cell would fill a hole. It did, it helped. 
  6. They thought that cheap hardware would make for the rest. The small cells are cheap, but the bang for the buck is not there like a macro site. 
  7. The small cell performance would be good enough. Again, it is not. A macro site offers more loading, services, performance, and coverage. This goes back to getting the biggest bang for your buck.

So the thing is, small cells for the outdoor solution were so limited they didn’t have the payback that the carriers wanted. 

So what is today’s outdoor small cell?

The thing is, the carriers are putting a single sector radio head-on almost all poles today. They realize they like macro performance. They need the BBU to meet the KPIs of the users. Like it or not, the macro site offers more capabilities than small cells. They began to learn this in the arenas years ago. 

If you have to run fiber to a pole, then get the performance and payback you expect. 

Radio heads have more power as well. So the carriers can control what the power is at any given pole at any time. 

Upgrades on the BBU allow the radio head to be upgraded remotely. BBUs offer the ability to add features in one location and let it flow out to the remote radio heads. 

A BBU hotel connecting several radio heads in multiple locations, like odAS or CRAN systems, allows the management of the handoffs to happen much easier. Ask anyone who did small cells inside a building. You have to have the neighbor lists set up properly and have the golden cell configure when handing off between the inside and outside networks. It doesn’t just happen, it has to be configured and tested. 

My point here is that it makes more sense to get the biggest bang in all your sites. If you have to pay full price for the installation and services, why half-ass it?

We need small cells for 5G!

What a bunch of crap. If that is the case then why are all the carriers putting 5G at the macro sites? Because 5G needs more than a radio everywhere. 

Why macro sites? Let’s review:

  • Backhaul is there and easy to upgrade;
  • The BBUs there allow for expansion and can be managed in one location;
  • You have a bigger bang for your buck;
  • You have the power available for expansion;
  • You have the network equipment to support along with servers to help you provide EDGE and FOG routing services;
  • Once the macro site is working, you can deploy radio heads all over town back to this BBU hotel.

Payback is a key thing. When you deploy a radio head with today’s technology and connect to back to a BBU hotel, it’s more cost-efficient than trying to set up a full 5G site on a pole. 

The idea is to keep minimal equipment on the pole. That way you can lower maintenance and keep costs down. Not to mention all the other drawbacks of a full site on a pole. 

The benefits of CRAN and oDAS are amazing compared to just putting full sites everywhere. It makes life easier for the carrier.

Are small cells the key to 5G success?

Not really, but if you want to have blanket coverage like the 5G standards are asking for, then yes. But le’ts classify a small cell as a small site. Small cells indoors make a lot of sense because they are cost-effective and don’t need the full capabilities that a macro site gives. 

That is unless your indoor site is a conference center, stadium, arena, or large venue. Then a small cell will quickly get overloaded. Back to the CRAN and DAS models.

Let’s just call them small sites, poles, or limited coverage RF distribution centers. 

To be honest I think it’s less about 5G coverage and more about mobile device coverage. Look at how today Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, and 5G are covering seamlessly to the same device. It makes sense to have coverage in as many places as possible. We need to have connectivity to everything and everywhere.

And if you want to disconnect, you know where there is no coverage when your device goes silent. 

You know you’re disconnected when:

  • Alexa will not answer you with anything except, “Connect me to the internet dummy!”.
  • Your Facebook app on your device didn’t send an alert in the past 2 minutes.
  • Your Instagram app didn’t update.
  • You didn’t get a Twitter update for at least 10 minutes from @realDonaldTrump. Don’t panic, he has ways to find you!
  • You didn’t get an email in over 3 minutes.
  • You don’t see any LinkedIn updates.
  • No one texted you in the past hour.
  • Your Google homepage tells you “you’re not connected, do you want to troubleshoot the problem”.
  • Your Wi-Fi symbol on your laptop looks like a “world” and not the RF symbol you’re used to.
  • You finally try to make a call on your device and it says “No Service”, then you proceed to throw the phone on the ground like it’s the device’s fault. Seriously, get a grip!


What about the RF on the pole.

OK, here’s what I want you to do if you are concerned with the RF on the pole, go live on a cave. 

Of course, there is more you can do. If you really want to avoid all RF, follow these steps.

  • Throw your cell phone away, turn it off, throw it away, and save the money you would spend on the bill.
  • Turn off the Wi-Fi and go back to using a CAT5 cable to connect to the internet. 
  • Find your Wi-Fi router and throw it away. 
  • Throw away your microwave.
  • Throw away your TV.
  • Throw away your GPS, chances are you have one because you don’t trust your iPhone or Galaxy.
  • Throw away any electronic device you may have, we can’t be too careful.
  • Stay away from your power meter and possibly your water meter since they may be smart meters. Better yet, move to an Amish community and make sure you have no indoor plumbing and disconnect all your electricity. After all, years ago they said that the 60 hertz from your AC wires throughout your home may cause cancer. So why risk it? Go Amish today!
  • Sell your Prius or Tesla since they rely heavily on RF to connect and update. Chances are you have one because you’re probably a tree hugger as well as an anti-RF person. You hate technology, but you can’t live without it. In fact, you probably love blogs, podcasts, and PBS. Well, which is it?
  • Stay away from hospitals, businesses, any fast food, police, ambulances, or any car since they have features in them that can be remotely accessed. You may want to get that muscle car, like a 64 Camaro or that 66 Shelby GT, or maybe a 67 Barracuda, (I had one of these). When you get it, rip out any radios since they may cause you problems. Even though it’s only AM or FM, they could pose a threat to you.
  • Let’s see, we removed all potential risks of RF, but the final step is to make sure you don’t see any towers near you. Look for that cave I mentioned earlier. You may want to build an outhouse, you will need it. 

Hey, I am not saying RF won’t cause you problems, it can. I climbed for years and I practically was an antenna hugger. I didn’t hug trees, I hugged antennas. 

The thing is, I am sure it was not good for my health, but then again, I try to eat healthily and exercise. To me, it makes sense to do more than just avoid RF. 

If you have a myriad of existing health problems, stop blaming RF. Just use some common sense and don’t hug any antennas. If you don’t exercise or you drink a lot of alcohol, don’t blame RF. If you watch 100 hours of TV every week or spend 60 hours looking down at your iPhone, don’t blame the RF. 

OK, the iPhone made it possible for you to totally ignore everything no matter where you go, so maybe you can blame RF.

And, thanks to RF, we have a TV in nearly every home in America, so maybe that’s an issue.

My point is, look how far we’ve come in such a short time. Even China wants to be more like the USA as far as lifestyle, and that’s a communist country for GOD’s sake! Think about that.



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