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Small cells

Small cells are radio units that relay mobile phone signals. Telcos install them on structures such as light poles, bus shelters and the sides of buildings. 

About small cells

Small cells will be a key part of the roll out of 5G. This is the high-speed mobile technology telcos will introduce from 2019.  

Providers of small cells

In most cases, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone will install small cells around Australia.

Location of small cells

Telcos install small cells on:

  • light, power and tram poles
  • ‘smart’ light pole systems that combine lighting, wi-fi and mobile
  • bus stops
  • railway stations
  • advertising panels

Why use small cells

Macro cells were used in early mobile phone services. They are:

  • larger
  • on towers and roof tops
  • provide coverage up to several kilometres

Telcos may use several small cells to give the same level of coverage that a macro cell did.

Small cells:

  • use less power
  • have smaller antennas – never longer than 1.2 metres
  • can be inside buildings
  • give coverage of 50 to 200 metres

 

Public consultation

Telcos install and maintain small cells. They do not need a local council or other government to approve their work. 

When the small cell is to be used for mobile services, they must notify owners and occupiers before they install. Telcos must follow the Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code.

Under this code they must:

  • tell councils and the public about their plans and when they will install
  • respond to submissions from councils during the comment period

The comment period is 10 business days.

We may direct telcos to follow the code. If they do not follow the code, they face penalties up to $250,000.

You may complain to us if you think a telco has not followed the code.

Health and small cells

All mobile phone base stations, including small cells and 5G base stations, must stay within the safe EME levels.

Small cells have a lower power output than older base stations. This means they have lower EME emissions.

5G base stations can also go into ‘sleep mode’ when they are not in use. This means their power output and EME emissions will be lower than 4G base stations.

 

Safe EME levels

Through audits, investigations and site inspections, we check telcos stay in the safe EME levels. We have consistently found that the EME levels of small cells are safe.

Telcos face fines up to $315,000 or 2 years of imprisonment if they do not stay in the safe levels.

For a guide to small cells, read our fact sheet

Where to find information on small cells

You can search for information on small cells on The Radio Frequency National Site Archive. On this website, you can:

  • search for towers, base stations and small cells near you
  • find electromagnetic energy reports
  • find community consultation information
  • contact details for the provider
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