Data Traffic Increase Will Drive 5G Small Cell Deployments to 13 million by 2027

By Taryn Engmark

Associate Editor

Embedded Computing Design

August 23, 2022


Data Traffic Increase Will Drive 5G Small Cell Deployments to 13 million by 2027

5G promises mobile network operators and their customers higher capacity and energy efficiency, faster speed, lower RAN latency, and massive connectivity potential. But these benefits are not without tradeoffs — namely in the form of skyrocketing mobile data traffic demands.

ABI Research, a global technology intelligence firm, said worldwide 5G mobile data traffic will increase to 1676 Exabytes in 2026, showing a 63% CAGR. Rapidly increasing data traffic demands that mobile network operators upgrade their network capacity. Macro cell sites and 5G spectrums both have limited availability, so although it is a costly approach, the most practical course of action is a dense deployment of 5G small cells.

Thus far, Massive MIMO (mMIMO) macro cells have satisfied the 5G capacity requirements — but when demand continues to rise, small cells become necessary to fill the inevitable gaps. There will be 13 million outdoor 5G small cell deployments by 2027, and those 5G small cell deployments will overtake 4G in the following year.

Fei Liu, a 5G & mobile network infrastructure industry analyst at ABI Research, says, “Compared to the previous generation small cells, 5G small cells face more challenges in design and performance. 5G small cells need to be smaller and lighter while supporting larger bandwidths such as 100MHz and 200MHz. With 5G, there is a wider range of deployment scenarios, forcing vendors to provide comprehensive solutions to support every need.”

Mobile network operators in most countries focus on 5G macro cell deployment for the consumer sector. The actual data traffic growth rate is responsible for when and how severe network capacity challenges are. 5G small cell deployments will take place en masse around 2025, when C-band network capacity is likely to run out without additional spectrum or small cell densification — though some enterprises and industry verticals are jumping ahead in deploying 5G small cells for their private networks.

“5G small cells can co-exist with macro cells, and self-organizing networks help minimize risks from interferences between cells," Liu says. "Alternatively, mobile network operators should deploy different frequency bands on small and macro cells.”

For more information, visit ABI Research’s 5G Small Cells application analysis report, part of its 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure research service.