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| Jason Schnellbacher 6 things CIOs should know about small cell technology

In-building wireless has long been a challenge for enterprises. If your building is prone to poor reception and slow mobile data speeds, small cells may the answer. Here are six things every CIO should know about small cell technology.


If you are responsible for strategizing or maintaining communications technology at the enterprise level, here’s something you should know: Something small is having a large impact on business communications.

Small cell technology is here, ready to address the challenges of in-building wireless and improve your employees’ wireless experience. Here are six important things to know about small cells:

  1. All small cells are not the same. There are indoor and outdoor versions, all are single-carrier, and almost all are wireline-based. The reason that small cells haven’t truly taken off in enterprises is that typical wireline-based units connect to the enterprise network. They force the enterprise to carry traffic and bear a security risk for what they often see as the carrier’s failure to provide adequate coverage.

What has been needed – and is now becoming available – is an all-wireless small cell that requires no connection to the enterprise network. All traffic remains in the carrier’s network, eliminating the obstacles to deployment.

  1. Small-cell technology provides the power without the tower. Unlike macro networks, small cells operate by sending signals via radios located in close proximity. The size, complexity, and cost of macro towers present obvious challenges. The difficulties associated with equipment, installation, and maintenance of traditional cellular networks has long invited competition from something more efficient, and small cells are meeting the challenges.

With their improved signals, small cells not only provide reliable access and speed, but the more advanced wireless versions can be easily located anywhere inside the building and moved as necessary. As 5G becomes the norm, wireless small cells will be able to deliver high-quality video and increased capacity at higher speeds as well as interface with the rapidly expanding Internet of Things.

  1. Small cells work for your work force. BYOD has become the norm in businesses everywhere. With so many professionals using their cell phones for communications inside as well as outside the office, one of the most frustrating obstacles is multiple carrier support. This carrier’s equipment can’t readily talk to that other carrier’s phone. That’s a problem, as a recent survey by Zinwave revealed. Among survey respondents, 63 percent said they used cell phones on a daily basis for external communications, and 57 percent for internal communications. Dropped calls, interference, and interrupted data connections can be a drain on productivity and a disincentive for potential employees.
  2. Small cells are not worry-free. Security is a key issue in any kind of network in any kind of business, and breaches are universal. Small cell technology is not immune. Competent people with security experience are in high demand, and the enterprise must choose between hiring and training internal staff or contracting with qualified external sources.

Add to the personnel issue the fact that as increasing numbers of employees use their personal cell phones for business purposes, the threat of corruption of the enterprise network or rogue access to network files increases as well. With wireline small cells, companies have found that an isolated VLAN for external access or encryption and authentication measures can help. But with an all-wireless small cell, security issues are off the table since there is no connection to the enterprise network.

Of course, there are also the issues of service assurance, maintenance, and monitoring, and the need to keep small cells up and running, although this is typically the responsibility of the carrier.

  1. Whoever owns the building owns the problem. As efficient as they are, even small cells can have issues with interference. If they are placed too closely together, or if they are deployed co-channel – with the small cell operating on the same channel as the macro network – this can create performance issues. Since small cells operate on radio frequencies, they are sensitive to the volume of the signal as well as changes in frequency. This is something that a building owner needs to keep in mind, particularly in instances where the owner offers small cell coverage as an attractive amenity for tenants. Newer, energy-efficient buildings also often disrupt the macro signal, making small cells an even more critical element in providing reliable and fast coverage. That Zinwave survey noted that increasingly, when getting a signal is a frustration, employees tend to blame the building’s owner or the employer rather than the carrier. So it is important to be proactive and prevent potential problems.
  2. They’re in your future. Globally, according to Deloitte, more than 10 million small cells, almost all wireline-based, have been deployed. Small cell equipment spending is expected to approach $10 billion by 2019. The advent of the all-wireless small cell is sure to have a tremendous impact on these numbers, because with their ease of deployment and higher security, more enterprises will be taking advantage of this new approach to better in-building wireless coverage.

If your company’s goals include a work environment that supports highly productive employees who are empowered rather than frustrated by their technology, you need to know how small cells can make a big difference as competition grows, prices drop, and small cells become more attractive.

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