Small cell terminology

Recent white paper from the Small Cell Forum comprehensively describes the technology and its market.

A recent white paper from the Small Cell Forum comprehensively describes the technology and its market and includes a round-up of small cell terminology. "A number of different terms have been used across different parts of the industry," notes the Forum. "Although there is no formal definition of these terms, is important to appreciate that the terms do crossover."

Small Cell: An umbrella term for low-powered radio access nodes that operate in licensed and unlicensed spectrum that have a range of 10 meter to several hundred meters. These contrast with a typical mobile macrocell which might have a range of up to several tens of kilometers. The term covers femtocells, picocells, microcells and metrocells.

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Femtocell: A low-power, short range, self-contained basestation. Initially used to describe consumer units intended for residential homes, the term has expanded to encompass higher capacity units for enterprise, rural and metropolitan areas. Key attributes include IP backhaul, self-optimisation, low power consumption and ease of deployment.

Picocell: Typically used to describe low power compact basestations, used in enterprise or public indoor areas, the term is sometimes used to encompass outdoor small cells as well. Some care is required in selecting the number and location of these cells for indoor use, although the self-optimising features of newer picocells, borrowed from femtocell technology, minimize the amount of specialist knowledge required.

Microcell: Typically used to describe an outdoor short-range basestation aimed at enhancing coverage for both indoor and outdoor users where macro coverage is insufficient. Occasionally installed indoors to provide coverage and capacity in areas above the scope of a picocell.

Metrocell: A recent term used to describe small cell technologies designed for high capacity metropolitan areas. Such devices are typically installed on building walls or street furniture (e.g. lampposts and CCTV poles). This category can include technologies such as femtocells, picocells and microcells where they meet these deployment criteria.

HetNet (Heterogeneous Network): A network where a mixture of macrocells, small cells and in some cases Wi-Fi access points, are employed together to provide coverage with handoff capabilities between them.

"Small cell technology is applicable to the whole range of licenced spectrum mobile technologies, such as those standardized by 3GPP, 3GPP2 and the WiMAX forum," continues the analysis. The paper examines how, over recent years, application of the term femtocell has evolved considerably.

View/Download the white paper.

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