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Power Quality Key to Long-Term Viability of Small Cells

4/10/2014

To say the mobile revolution is here is, at best, an understatement, and at worst, several years late.

Various sources estimate from 40% to 55% of data traffic (such as online retail) takes place through mobile devices. In other words, if not already, users soon will access the internet more through mobile devices than with a PC.

This continuing demand for mobile bandwidth has led to the rapid growth of small cell applications, essentially compact radio access nodes that serve ranges up to several hundred meters.

For carriers, it’s a cost-effective, fast, scalable way to deliver service and deploy bandwidth to more areas, specifically locations with high data demand. Network architects can essentially subdivide larger cells into smaller ones, expanding capacity incrementally by installing small cells on street light or traffic poles, support structures in public buildings, or other approved remote locations.

At a small cell, power can come from any number of typically localized sources – off a street light, a traffic light control, solar panel or other source.

“It’s important to think about where the power is coming from,” said Mark Hendricks, Product Manager for PolyPhaser | Transtector Systems. “Our message is always about power quality, and how the performance of all equipment is dependent on protection from transients, surges and other power anomalies.”

However the small cell is powered, it is in fact utilizing power from some source, and since it is a cell site, it must also incorporate some form of backup power. Reliable surge suppression is a key part of these installations – all it takes is a lightning strike, transient or other power problem to take down the small cell.

“In these networks, there are a lot of sites, and each requires grounding and suppression performance without a lot of cost,” said Bob Garner, Applications Engineer for PolyPhaser | Transtector Systems. “Engineers are looking for flexible solutions that work the same every time, wherever they’re installed.”

The location of small cells – within the overall network – also emphasizes their importance. Small cells are often deployed to address areas of high data demand, such as airports, train stations, shopping districts, enterprise environments, downtown cores, and other high-traffic locations.

“When traffic is high at a small cell, it’s very high,” Garner said. “So ensuring that power isn’t a problem is particularly important.”

Some projections speculate that mobile data usage will exceed wireline data by next year, and to handle users’ expectations of seamless data in all locations, small cells will surpass macrocell sites soon after. Finding the right surge suppression equipment for small cells is a crucial part of this trend.

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