Study on Small Cells and Dense Cellular Networks Regulatory Issues Study on Small Cells and Dense Cellular Networks Regulatory Issues

Study Background and Motivation

Mobile network operators in Europe and other regions are compelled to deploy large number of small cells to alleviate network capacity shortages, particularly in locations that are experiencing a surge in data traffic volume generated per unit area.  Furthermore, the commercial deployment of 5G networks operating at mid and high bands will further drive the need for network densification through small cell deployment, to enable operators to effectively translate the value of 5G upgrades and its inherent features (e.g. mobile edge computing, network slicing etc.) to subscribers and industry verticals. 

A snapshot of recent analyst reports project that new small cell deployments over the next five years, or so, will be increasingly dominated by dense or hyperdense small cell deployments (with over 150 sites/km2) as operators target 4G capacity upgrades and 5G rollouts in urban and enterprise environments. The continued sustainability of these dense deployment trends requires overcoming a number of challenges, including, but not limited to: backhauling, interference management and regulatory barriers to network densification. 

The project has conducted a study on deployment and regulatory aspects to help EU and its member states identify the most effective way to lower the costs of deploying small cells and dense cellular networks. The study includes an overview of current and future small cell deployment trends as well as, various considerations for small cell deployments to further the understanding of the potential regulatory barriers to dense deployment.
The regulatory factors influencing dense small cell deployments are analysed, whilst taking into consideration the perspective of different stakeholders and highlighting potential areas of regulatory interventions to facilitate deployment. Specifically the analysis focuses on four key factors: general definition or classification small cells; regulatory implications on sharing of small cells; radio frequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure limits; and approvals, licensing and permits for small cell deployments. 

Summary Findings and Conclusions

The study has highlighted some of the main regulatory factors that impact dense deployment of small cells. The study findings and conclusions are summarised below along the main regulatory factors mentioned previously. 

  • General definition or classification small cells: The regulatory interventions to facilitate dense small cell deployments require definition or classification of base stations that provide a clear distinction of small cells from conventional macrocells. These definitions or classifications should be standardised and recognised not only across diverse stakeholder groups but also in different countries to facilitate harmonisation of deployment rules and regulations, in accordance with the Digital Single Market (DSM) objectives. The current consensus seems to be building around the IEC 62232 Ed.2.0 base station installation classes as the preferred classification method. To that end, the adoption of 62232 Ed.2.0 guidelines in regulatory frameworks could be considered a significant step in formulating regulation that facilitates dense small cell deployments.   
  • Regulatory implications on sharing of small cells: The requirement for increasingly dense and hyperdense small cell networks makes the sharing small cell infrastructure even more critical than in macrocellular networks. The overlapping of dense small cell deployments by multiple operators and neutral hosts is commercially and environmentally unsustainable. The need to encourage or mandate sharing has been highlighted by policy and regulatory initiatives, including the proposed European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) directive.  
  • RF-EMF exposure limits: The requirement for compliance assessment of small cells in terms of RF-EMF exposure limits is a significant barrier for dense small cell deployments, due to the relatively larger number of small cell sites (both outdoor and indoor) that may need to undergo the costly and time-consuming assessment for product installation compliance. However, there have been increased recommendations for small cells to have simplified assessments that reduce or eliminate the need for product installation compliance for individual small cell installations. The recommendations are increasingly backed by scientific research results, most of which have concluded that the RF-EMF compliance boundaries typically evaluated based on theoretical maximum transmit powers, create overly conservative EMF limits and may unnecessarily constrain the density of small cell deployments. 
  • Approvals, licensing and permits for small cell deployments: The small cell deployment processe involves a number of diverse stakeholders, which may result in overly complex and prolonged processes for dense small cell deployments. A number of countries have already adopted measures for simplifying planning approval processes for small cells. Further benefits of the interventions described could be amplified by harmonising some of those procedures across different countries. The success of Wi-Fi deployments provides an example of what is achievable through simplification of approvals, licensing and permits. The fact that Wi-Fi access points and small cells bear many resemblances, such as, their physical and RF characteristics, and deployment scenarios, provides solid argument for adoption of similar simplified rules for small cells.

Click here to read the Preliminary Report on Small Cells.


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