LAS VEGAS – The telco space is buzzing with chatter about small cells as carriers look to densify their networks and prepare for 5G. But while Tier-1 carriers have an obvious starting point in urban areas, the question of where – and how – to deploy is a bit more cloudy for small and rural carriers.

At the Competitive Carriers Association’s Mobile Carriers Show on Thursday, experts from Ericsson, BEC Technologies, and ClearSky Technologies shared some pointers.

Here’s what they had to say:

On deciding exactly where to deploy small cells

According to ClearSky VP of Professional Services Alberto Rubio, the key is taking a targeted, data-based approach to determine the best spots where carriers can deploy quickly without lots of time or money. Using analytics from inputs such as data usage, road density, LTE coverage and interference, population density, and income, Rubio said carriers can effectively hone in on the low hanging fruit in terms of high return on investment opportunities.

“The reason for this (analysis) is you have to justify the spend, you have to justify the cost,” Rubio said, noting such projections could show the amount of coverage and capacity offloading from the macro network that would come with a deployment. “It’s really about knowing you’re getting the most value for the money, it’s about finding that maximum return on investment very quickly … and of course you want to make sure that solution works.”

On why it’s important for small cells to be connected to the macro network

Ericsson North America’s Director of Network Product Solutions Stefan Calmerman observed there are a number of different setup scenarios – including standalone, a macro hub, and a C-RAN architecture – for small cells, but noted it’s important for carriers to coordinate their small cells with the macro network whenever possible.

Why? Because Calmerman said inter-site coordination improves network performance.

For example, Calmerman noted an inter-eNode B CoMP setup would yield a 2 dB improvement in Voice over LTe uplink coverage, two times higher uplink cell edge throughput, and 35-40 percent higher downlink cell edge throughput. The benefits of coordination also improve with lower latency, he said.

Other considerations for small cell deployments

BEC Technologies’ VP of Business Development Andy Germano said some of the main concerns when it comes to small cell deployments include interference, propagation, macro interface, what band carriers will be operating in, power management, deployment, backhaul, and zoning and location.

Additionally, for regional deployments, Germano said carriers should consider use cases for deployment, decide whether they’re aiming for coverage or capacity, whether they’re looking at low or high bands, co-channel or separate setup, roaming partners, and backhaul availability.