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Small Cells Play Key Role in 5G Networks

By LitePoint

April 4, 2022

This blog post is based on two articles in DigiTimes that were based on interviews with LitePoint experts.

With the availability of new mid-band spectrum, mobile network operators (MNOs) are setting up stand-alone 5G networks and exploring the unique use cases the technology offers. 

New applications that use the benefits of 5G are appearing as well including autonomous driving systems, smart imaging medical systems, and other new applications that demonstrate the value of 5G networks that offer wide coverage, high bandwidth, and low latency. 

As the network is being built out,  the technical challenges of macro cell signal directivity and coverage are significant, driving 5G networks to require signal reinforcement for indoor networks and to fill in gaps in large gathering places, like stadiums, and in places where signals from the macro cell network fall short due to attenuation. 

Small cells – base stations that have a signal range of up to a few kilometers compared to a macrocell’s range of up to 20 Km – are becoming more popular for these applications and for network build out in  metropolitan cities. 

In addition to small cells, Open RAN is another major paradigm shift in 5G by bringing a more flexible RAN infrastructure to the network.  These elements can run on servers using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components with open interconnects between the distributed unit (DU) and the radio head (RU). These can be deployed flexibly and the reduced cost of Open RAN brings the cost of the RAN to a level that makes small cells more affordable. 

Small cells accelerate the development of enterprise private network applications

The combination of small cells and O-RAN technology is especially beneficial for emerging 5G private network applications. Many of these can be built using small cells giving the enterprise ownership of its local network with an interconnection to the public network for Internet or cloud access. New small cell designs are on the market that provide plug-and-play functions, or may be disassembled into two or three hardware devices for flexible deployment depending on the local conditions. 

LitePoint offers test solutions tailored for small cells

Wireless testing of small cells starts with the verification of the front-end chip design, and includes testing of the communication module and the system design. Other key testing includes beamforming characterization, beamforming verification, RF calibration and antenna measurements.

Manufacturers traditionally have used “mix and match” test systems, relying on multiple single-function test systems during product testing. However, when entering high-volume production, this patchwork solution is not as feasible as it requires special training and extra time to validate the combination and  drives up testing costs.

LitePoint overcomes the challenges with innovative and automated “one-box” test systems that perform a complete testing protocol for both development and manufacturing testing. The systems use a simple graphical user interface (GUI) that makes user training intuitive. LitePoint has three systems for small cell testing that are differentiated by the radio frequencies supported: 

  • IQXstream-5G (used in sub-6GHz spectrum) IQxstream® is a multi-device cellular communication test solution for precise calibration and verification of 2G/3G/4G/5G smart devices like smartphones, tablets, data cards, cellular modules and small cell base stations.
  • IQgig™-IF (with intermediate frequency 5-19GHz as main) IQgig-IF is a high-performance physical-layer test solution tailored for conducting tests of 5G, 802.11ad and ay (WiGig) chipsets and baseband modules.
  • IQgig-5G (for high frequency 23-45GHz use). IQgig-5G is the first fully integrated, single box, multiband mmWave test solution, designed for 5G NR user equipment (UE) and small cells testing across all 5G FR2 frequencies within a 23-45GHz range.

These systems deliver feature ability to control multiple DUTs to speed up testing and lower production costs. While they are ideal for small cells, they can also be used for mobile devices or any other system that works with in the above frequency ranges. 

LitePoint one-box solutions offer a reliable testing system that makes it easy to build and grow a complete test environment that matches the growth of small cell R&D activity and manufacturing.


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