Controller-based Small Cells to Improve Cellular Coverage in the Enterprise

Controller-based Small Cells maybe useful for densely packed enterprises, organizations or large public venues (like stadiums, malls) that experience call drops/poor quality cellular network coverage. They help reduce voice call drop rates and improve mobile broadband data rates (3G/LTE), especially in densely packed areas that are not serviced by the cellular towers optimally.

With more employees accessing Internet/bandwidth-heavy applications like video on their mobile devices in their workplaces; and with people accessing social networks in densely packed malls or stadiums, the cellular network towers may not work as expected. Besides, network coverage maybe poor in certain locations inside large buildings that sometimes even calls are dropped.

To improve the cellular network coverage (for both voice and data), there are Controller-based Small Cells. Radio Nodes (similar to Access Points) enhances cellular coverage where required. They connect to the enterprise Ethernet network and maybe PoE-enabled. The Controller aggregates all cellular data from Radio Nodes, connects to the enterprise Ethernet network, and integrates with both the enterprise network and carrier networks.

Some Functions of Controller-based Smart Cells in the Enterprise:

  • Increases mobile broadband data rates for Internet access (3G/LTE) and reduces voice call drop rates inside large buildings and densely packed areas like stadiums and malls.
  • Mobility/Roaming is supported within the premises either through handover between the Radio Nodes or by MIMO-like aggregation of data from multiple nodes (depending on the vendor).
  • Local switching of local voice and data sessions is possible. Data is routed from the cellular network to the enterprise network at the controller-level so that applications hosted in the enterprise can be accessed directly via the local network, for example.
  • Allows operators to manage multiple smart cells as one unit for configuration, performance, troubleshooting and security.
  • Allows mobile operators to provide high-speed backhaul connections to the controller using multiple Fiber/DSL lines to improve the in-premises network performance.
  • Allows enterprises and large premises to scale up their small cell coverage to large areas, even up to 50,000 sq.m.
  • Multi-mobile operator scenarios are supported by certain Controller-based Small Cells. The Controller decides which operator is served by a given radio node.
  • Access to certain enterprise services can be locked down based on the SIM identity also, enhancing security.
  • Controller-based Smart Cell vendors claim that installation is rapid and costs are similar to enterprise WiFi systems.
  • In the future, some models may integrate WiFi and provide an integrated management platform for both WiFi and Cellular coverage.
  • In the future, Smart Cell systems may integrate with WiFi and Enterprise PBX systems, and the best way to route calls/data will be decided by the controller.
  • In the future, they may support new applications and cloud services based on location info, etc.

This technology is relatively new and faces good competition from DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems), Enterprise Femto Cells/Stand-Alone Small Cells, etc. Currently, this system is mostly bought by the enterprise companies themselves, but I guess it may be offered and managed by the service providers, in the future.


  1. Small Cells inside the Enterprise – The “Who, What and Where” (pdf)
  4. Enterprise Small Cell Architectures (pdf)

You could stay up to date on Computer Networking/IT Technologies by subscribing to this blog with your email address in the sidebar box that says, ‘Get email updates when new articles are published’.