Small cells are helping to make a difference in mobile phone connectivity. Providers have traditionally looked to larger macro cells to provide coverage, but the macros can get bogged down by a traffic overload and by the everyday interference inside of buildings. This is where small cells come in to play.

According to this Forward Thinking report, an estimated four million small cells are expected to be installed in 2012, which is much more than any macro cell installation projection. By 2016, according to research by Informa (News - Alert) Telecoms & Media, the number of small cells will go from the current 3.2 million to an estimated 62 million.

Not long ago, all the small cells were located in residential areas. We’re now seeing a majority of small cells being installed in cities and in enterprises where connectivity was an issue.

Engineers at the Small Cell Forum, and at many other organizations, are working toward interoperability and ensuring that the small cells are interconnected.  They are also working toward having the small cells “self-provisioned” and “self-organized.” An area of interest in small cells is also focused on integration with Wi-Fi, which is letting cells push data onto the Internet through the use of SIM cards in the mobile phones.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance, which has a group of large carriers on board, is taking the lead on public WiFi (News - Alert). The goal here is to relieve some of the data traffic off the cellular network. But they’ve got to work out issues including roaming agreements and interoperability.

One of the ways to approach this public WiFi is through the use of SIM cards in phones that will connect to these “next generation hotspots” for fast and reliable connection. Trials on the technology are ongoing, but deployments are expected to begin with the next 12 months.

Isolated areas that get significant amounts of traffic, such as convention centers or large corporations with a workforce in close quarters, could benefit from another advancement in something known as wireless gigabit technology. This would include small cells deployed in these high-traffic areas were the connection is fast because the cell is covering a small area with little interference that plague macro cells, or that typical WiFi hotspots will see.

The technology behind the wireless gigabit idea is thought to improve streaming of multimedia content. It would also create docking stations that are wireless and can accommodate devices such as ultrabooks. This technology could be available within a year or two.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca