Growing demand for mobile network connectivity associated with increased smartphone ownership, greater mobile usage indoors and higher data rates is driving the evolution of mobile networks. One approach to facilitating connectivity is the use of small cells. Small cells are low powered radio access nodes or base stations operating in licensed or unlicensed spectrum that have a coverage range from a few meters up to a few hundred meters. They can be deployed to increase the mobile network capacity and coverage in localized areas whether inside buildings or in outdoor spaces.
In a recent speech the Federal Communications Commission have said that there will be a need for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of decisions on antenna permits to allow the small cell deployments needed to make 5G a success. This can only be achieved if leaders at the local level understand the benefits that 5G will deliver.
The fact that small cells have a relatively small volume and are visually unobtrusive means that it is important that local planning laws allow for small cell deployments with minimal administrative hurdles or delays.
Adopting nationally standardised procedures and criteria for small cells based on international recommendations benefits municipalities through simplified administration, operators who can deploy more efficiently and the community who gain improved connectivity.
The GSMA has identified seven key policy recommendations to enable small cell deployments:
- Follow the internationally harmonised small cell power classes when developing regulations related to compliance with radiofrequency exposure limits.
- Adopt simplified procedures for building permits for small cells (if required) based on standardised size, installation requirements and radio characteristics.
- Accept declarations of compliance and do not require routine post installation measurement.
- Exempt small cell installations from location registration requirements.
- Reduce permit costs for small cells relative to those for macrocells.
- In respect of radiofrequency compliance provide information for consumers and local authorities based on World Health Organization recommendations.
- Facilitate access to existing structures, electrical power and data backhaul.
Evolving the regulatory framework to support the deployment of small cells will mean that industry and governments can deliver on the digital connectivity expectations of citizens and paves the way to 5G.