The Growth of Small Cells and Why There is Nothing Small About It

The demand for in-building wireless continues to grow to accommodate the explosion of mobile devices and the demand for anywhere connectivity in our personal and work lives. It’s estimated now that 80% of all wireless connections are in-building and a growing part of that connectivity is due to small cells.

The use of small cells for in-building wireless has been increasing for more than ten years. Small cells are often used as an economical standalone solution or in conjunction with DAS (distributed antenna system) in low- to mid-density buildings with minimal mobile network operation and support. Small cell systems are small versions of macro cell sites and combine 4G wireless signal sources, distribution electronics, and antennas into a modern IT architecture based on structured cabling, Ethernet switches, and access-point-like 4G radio nodes. Small cells offer a flexible solution that can be easily implemented, even in occupied buildings.

Black Box Corporation


Almost all vendors for in-building and outdoor wireless equipment have touted the benefits of small cells and have created a product portfolio for them. However, the industry has learned that deploying this simple product is not as easy as it seems. This is mainly because carriers (AT&T, VzW, Sprint, and TMo) require extensive and sometimes costly permits to install the small cell access points (APs) in awkward locations, like light poles and rooftops, or require a stringent frequency plan and operational support when installed indoors.

As an agnostic leader in technology solutions integration, we believe small cells deployment will only continue to grow along with user demand for anywhere connectivity. Based on our research in wireless technology, including small cells, and our partnerships with major OEMs, we believe that:

  • The number of small cells deployed is predicted to rapidly increase over the next few years from about 13,000 small cells in 2017 to 86,000 this year—a 550% increase—and over 800,000 by 2026.  (CTIA annual survey)
  • The analysts at Wall Street firm Macquarie Research predicted that fully 5-10% wireless operators’ operating expenses this year will go to small cells.
  • T-Mobile, in February, announced it would embark on a significant program to deploy 25,000 small cells in 2018 and early 2019. This is on top of the approximately 18,000 small cells and DAS nodes already rolled out as of the end of 2017.
  • Verizon, a carrier that many regard as the nation’s early leader in small cell deployments, said that fully 62% of its wireless deployments in 2017 were small cells and that this number will only grow larger as 5G is deployed in 2018 and beyond. The carrier explained that small cells are needed to meet exploding consumer demand for data, drive innovation, create new jobs, and fuel new services and capabilities, such as smart communities, connected cars, smart farming, and the Internet of Things.
  • The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to make it easier for operators to deploy small cell infrastructure in an effort to hasten network densification in support of 5G globalization.

As a leader in wireless system integration, we believe that small cells will be required to meet consumer demand for data. The traditional macro network, or cellular network, is designed with reliability in mind, but requires intricate planning and capital considerations. It’s not really designed to provide reliable RF signals and noise to create a positive customer experience, especially in complex, high-density buildings.

Here are some other statistics that point to the growing demand for small cell wireless. But don’t just take our word for it. Here are some other statistics that point to the growing demand for small cell wireless. 

Black Box Corporation

Is Small Cell the Right Technology for You?
The macro network has become the hub that can no longer sustain high consumer demand and concentration. Small cells are used to augment coverage and provide enough capacity to meet wireless demand today and tomorrow.

Why Choose Black Box as Your Small Cell Partner?
Black Box is a leading technology solutions provider dedicated to helping our customers digital transformation through the design, deployment, and maintenance of complex small cell solutions.

We're uniquely capable of deploying small cell/DAS/Wi-Fi solutions through our deep understanding of the technology, broad IP/vendor agnostic specializations, global footprint, and service capabilities. For more information on Black Box wireless/mobility solutions, visit our website at

4G Black Box insights cellular networks DAS mobile connectivity network expansion network growth small cell deployment Small Cells Telecommunications Wi-Fi Wireless infrastructure Wireless Technology
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