What is a metrocell?

Metrocells are compact and discrete mobile phone basestations, unobstrusively located in urban areas. They can be mounted on lampposts, positioned on the sides of buildings or found indoors in stadiums, transport hubs and other public areas. They provide excellent mobile phone service, delivering very high data speeds and capacity, solving the problem of growing data traffic demand cost effectively.

These small cells are usually owned and installed by the mobile network operator themselves, who plan, manage and maintain them in the same way as their larger macrocell cousins. However, the large numbers of metrocells change the way in which the industry operates.

There are three important distinctions that define a metrocell:

  • Operates in licenced spectrum. This means that unlike Wi-Fi where the frequencies are shared with anyone who wants to use them, a network operator can design and manage the radio coverage and interference throughout, achieving much more predictable results. This is especially important in high traffic, busy environments.
  • Much smaller than a macrocell. These compact units are of a similar size to a laptop or tablet, rather than a large cell tower or mast. Their unobstrusive format makes them much easier to find suitable sites. Often they are disguised and difficult to spot. This makes them much easier to install too.
  • Lower RF power and capacity than a macrocell. Metrocells typically handle 16 or 32 concurrent voice calls, and can stream data at the highest 3G and 4G speeds. They do this over much shorter ranges than a macrocells, 100 metres or so compared to several kilometres radius.

A cluster of metrocells can deliver very high levels of data throughput, making them very cost effective to handle urban areas with strong demand. Their comparative lower cost per unit means they can deliver the same extra capacity as macrocells for less than half the cost.

In this metrocell section, we look at the implications for the industry, from the new technology involved to how this will impact the commercial relationships.

Shown below, Alcatel-Lucent Metrocell.

ALU-metrocell400

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