Outdoor small cell deployments will start to ramp around 2025 when Massive MIMO macro cells can no longer fulfill 5G capacity demands, ABI Research predicted.

The research company also warned C-Band capacity would start to run out without additional spectrum or small cell densification. It expects 5G mobile data traffic to reach 1,676 Exabytes in 2026, a CAGR of 63 per cent.

ABI Research expects there to be 13 million outdoor 5G small cell deployments by 2027, with the sum to eclipse 4G a year later.

Fei Liu, 5G and mobile network infrastructure industry analyst noted 5G small cells “complement macro cells, boosting network capacity and extending coverage in dense areas where signals are weak or unavailable”.

The small cells also “allow network operators to derive more value” from their current spectrum portfolio by using them “more efficiently”.

Liu noted there are greater design and performance challenges, and higher costs associated with 5G small cells compared with previous generations, citing a need to be “smaller and lighter while also supporting larger bandwidths such as 100MHz and 200MHz”.

“With 5G, there is a wider range of deployment scenarios, forcing vendors to provide comprehensive solutions to support every need.”

Liu recommended operators focus initial deployments on areas where backhaul is already available, with the company noting there is also movement in private 5G from enterprises and industry verticals.