After years of waiting, 5G is finally here. 5G not only greatly improves network experiences for mobile consumers, but more importantly, will bring digitalization into every industry, revolutionizing our society. However, this vision will not be realized without small cell development. 

IDTechEx have recently released "5G Small Cells 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets, Forecast," a market research and business intelligence report exploring the key technical and industry factors that are shaping the fast-growing small cell market. 

So, why do small cells play such a key role in the 5G era?

With two new frequency bands, sub-6 GHz (3 to 7 GHz) and mmWave (24 to 48 GHz), included in 5G, 5G provides much larger bandwidth, lower latency, higher reliability and many more connections in comparison with previous generations of mobile networks. The benefit of 5G not only accelerates the growth of mobile consumer networks but also has huge potential to revolutionize industries such as automotive, entertainment, computing and manufacturing. 

However, there are a series of challenges that need to be addressed before we can fully enjoy the benefits. One of the main challenges is the signal attenuation of high-frequency signals. This means that the signal propagation is much shorter compared to the previous cellular networks such as 3G and 4G. Small cells are proposed to address this big challenge. Creating an ultra-dense network by deploying more small cells plays a key role in 5G as it allows it to complement the macro network and therefore boosts data capacity.

Small cells can be categorized into three types: femtocells, picocells and microcells, depending on their output power. Because of their smaller size compared to macro base stations, the material choices and the overall technology trend will be different from their macro infrastructure counterparts.

As of mid-2021, the majority of the 5G commercial rollouts are still focused on enhanced mobile broadband–installing 5G macro base stations to provide networks with high capacity for consumers using mobile devices. However, the new use cases such as industrial IoT 4.0, cellular vehicle to everything (C-V2X), new entertainment experiences, and smart cities, are where the real innovations are occurring and the huge market potential lies. 5G small cells will play an essential role in supporting those industries to become fully digitalized and the potential realized. 

5G small cells market analysis: The big market potential waiting in front of us

In this new report, IDTechEx forecast that the overall number of 5G small cells will reach 45 million by 2031.

This forecast builds on the extensive analysis of primary and secondary data, combined with careful consideration of market drivers, constraints and key player activities. The analysis considers how the following variables evolve during the forecast period: the development and adoption rate of sub-6 GHz and mmWave in the five regions, the growth of IoT for broadband and critical applications, 5G rollout potentials for enterprises, urban, and rural and remote purpose, and the utilization rate of different types of small cells for each scenario.