Qualcomm’s 5G Open RAN Platform Elevates 5G Small Cell Technology

July 08, 2021 by Jake Hertz

Small cell technology is becoming increasingly important as 5G continues its rollout, but why is that and what role is Qualcomm taking?

It's no secret that 5G is one of the hottest technologies out right now, with people lauding its potential to enable an unforeseen number of new technologies. However, with 5G comes an entirely new set of design challenges that require engineers to rethink what the most effective wireless infrastructure will look like. 


Some of the potential benefits of 5G.

Some of the potential benefits of 5G. Image used courtesy of Qualcomm


One of the significant changes in infrastructure between 4G and 5G technology will be in the increased utilization of small cell, as opposed to macro cell technology. 

Amongst the many companies doubling down on this approach is Qualcomm. Last week, Qualcomm released the industry's first 16 5G Open RAN platform for small cells. 

A few ways to better understand this infrastructure change is by looking at small cell vs. macro cell technology, the how and why small cells are deployed for 5G, and finally, investigating Qualcomm's latest 


5G Infrastructure Challenges 

The development of 5G tends to come with a couple of key concepts which are shaping how 5G infrastructure looks.

First off, 5G is bringing with it significantly higher speeds than 4G, which means that networks will have to support higher throughputs and bandwidth. The result of this, along with new emerging technologies such as IoT, is that there is expected to be a huge increase in total data traffic on 5G networks. Thus, one of the infrastructure challenges of 5G is how to build a network that can support high data traffic and rates without sacrificing reliability and connectivity. 


EM wave attenuation generally increases as frequency increases.

EM wave attenuation generally increases as frequency increases. Image used courtesy of Ismail et al


Another factor is how 5G technology works in significantly higher frequency bands than 4G. 

While 4G technology generally operates somewhere between 700 MHz-2500 MHz, Verizon's 5G network, for example, utilizes frequencies including 28 GHz and 39 GHz. 

These higher frequencies mean shorter wavelengths and decreased range due to increased attenuation. To put it simply, high frequency 5G has significantly less range than conventional 4G technology. This limitation then begs the question: how do you provide coverage to more people while working with less range? 


Small Cell for 5G 

One approach that many telecom companies are taking to these challenges is small cell technology.


Small cell technology is crucial to 5G deployment.

Small cell technology is crucial to 5G deployment. Image used courtesy of Qualcomm


Small cells are wireless transmitters and receivers meant specifically for small areas. Unlike conventional macro cells, which are tall, high-power towers intended to deliver the network signal across large distances; small cells suit more densely developed environments like cities. 

Small cells are not much different from macro cells and have been employed in the industry for years. The difference, mainly, is that small cells increase the number of transmitters and receivers in a given area, allowing the entire "cell" to be uniquely capable of handling high data rates, providing stronger coverage, and even extending device battery life. 

For 5G purposes, major telecommunications companies have proposed installing small cell transmitters/receivers into existing infrastructure, including street lights, utility poles, and buildings. 

With small cell technology looking more and more beneficial for 5G, it's no wonder companies like Qualcomm are looking to advance it.


Qualcomm’s Small Cell Platform

Seeing the value in small cell technology, Qualcomm recently announced the FSM200xx; its second-generation 5G RAN platform for small cells. 

The company calls it the industry's first 3GPP release 16 5G Open RAN platform built on a 4 nm node. This new platform claims to offer some major improvements over the first generation, like adding support for all global commercial mmWave and sub-6 GHz bands, including the new n259 (41 GHz), n258 (26 GHz), and FDD bands. 

Though this platform is mainly designed for improving 5G mmWave coverage and power efficiency, the FSM200xx could offer speeds up to 8 Gbps with a bandwidth of 1 GHz. On top of this, the platform states it could provide link reliability up to 99.9999% at an extremely low power thanks to its tiny process node. 

Qualcomm envisions its technology being most useful in "industry 4.0", including the next generation of smart factories, hospitals, and public transport.

Even with Industry 4.0 in mind as the main application for this platform, a wider range of small cell technologies is sure to be coming out as 5G implementation ramps up.


Small Cells: Here to Stay 

The successful integration of 5G technology will rely heavily on reliable underlying hardware infrastructure. 

The small cell approach is one main route being taken by many of the world's largest telecommunications companies and for a good reason. With new releases in the space coming from Qualcomm, it's clear that small cell technology is here to stay, and as 5G continues to be deployed, it should be expected to start seeing it more often very soon.



Interested in recent 5G innovations? Read more in the articles down below.

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A Week of GaN: 3 MMICs Target Ka-band, Reduced Area, and 5G Base Stations