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The “small” in small cell refers to the service area where coverage is offered (not the antenna or equipment size itself). The purpose of a small cell wireless facility is to provide coverage in areas where there are no broadband-level services. Macro wireless facilities provide coverage for many people but are unable to reach all areas. Small cell sites are intended to fill the coverage gap and handle greater capacity due to the higher demand by a multitude of wireless customers.

Small cells are generally attached to existing utility poles or street lights in the public rights-of-way, and most small cells are installed on existing utility infrastructure. While small cell wireless facilities can be located on new, freestanding poles in the public rights-of-way, municipalities usually do not approve of these installations when existing infrastructure is a viable option. Since they offer a smaller service area, most small cells must be located about 500 to 1,000 feet from the location to be served.

Currently, small cell wireless facilities do not support “5G” services. The technical standards for 5G services are still in development and testing phases, with current estimates predicting that nation-wide deployment will not happen until 2021.