A Guide To Small Cell Technology, The Backbone Of 5G Networks

Telecom Tech Outlook | Wednesday, January 19, 2022

There is no doubt that major telecommunications providers in the United States will heavily rely on small cell technology to roll out 5G coverage throughout the country, but what exactly does this mean?

Fremont, CA: Small cells make use of low-power, short-range wireless transmission systems (or "base stations") that cover small geographical areas or spaces that are relatively close together indoors or outdoors. Small cells have the same characteristics as the classic base stations used by telecom companies for years. Their unique capabilities allow them to handle high data rates for mobile broadband and consumers, as well as high densities of low-speed, low-power devices in the IoT. These characteristics make them perfect for the 5G rollout, which promises ultra-high speeds, a million devices per square mile, and latencies in the millisecond range.

Small Cell Tower Types

Today, the market recognizes three types of small cells: femtocells, picocells, and microcells, each with its own set of characteristics depending on coverage and the number of individual users it can support.


Femtocells are small mobile base stations that help increase home and business applications coverage. These are primarily used to unload overburdened networks, extend range, and improve indoor consumer penetration.

30–165 feet (10–50 meters) of coverage (indoor)

a hundred watts

8–16 users can be accommodated

Backhaul: fiber and wires



A picocell is a small cellular base station that typically covers a limited area, such as inside a building or, more recently, inside an airplane. Picocells are ideal for comprehensive network coverage and high data throughput in workplaces, hospitals, retail malls, schools, and institutions – primarily small businesses.

330–820 feet (100–250 meters) of coverage (indoor)

250 microwatts

32–64 users can be accommodated.

Backhaul: fiber and wires



The last of the tiny cell technologies, the microcell is a mobile network cell supported by a low-power base station that serves small areas such as malls, hotels, and unique places inside intelligent cities or transit hubs. Although the contrast between a microcell and a picocell is not always evident, microcells are often larger. Therefore, the microcell can accommodate a more significant number of users in some geographical areas.

1600 feet–1.5 miles (500 meters–2.5 kilometers) of coverage

wattage: 2–5 watts

There are 200 users online at the same time.

Backhaul options include cable, fiber, and microwave.

Costs in the middle (more expensive than femtocells, picocells)