5G Small Cell Concealment

The Growing Need for 5G Small Cell Concealment

The expansive 5G rollout is driving demand for an increase in small cell concealment in cities throughout the country. While wireless users are delighted by the faster speeds and overall responsiveness 5G affords them, the actual infrastructure required to facilitate this network revolution is complex. The compact size of a small cell site still has a footprint in the community. As the number of small sites continues to increase, so does the need to integrate them into communities.

The topic of 5G concealment has become a priority for cellular companies that deploy these small cell sites. The people that rely on them are equally concerned about the impact of new 5G infrastructure on cities and neighborhoods.

What is 5G concealment and what role does it play in this new area of wireless expansion? This article will define 5G concealment, detail its importance in the cellular industry and provide examples of 5G concealment solutions.

The Impact of 5G Expansion on Cell Site Development

Wireless devices have continued to evolve in sophistication and capability. However, the existing 4G network no longer has the capability to manage the demand. Not only are more homes and businesses wireless than ever before, the capabilities of smart technology have increased exponentially.

The 4G LTE network greatly advanced wireless usage when it was first made publicly available more than a decade ago. However, the reliance on wireless technology and the demand for speed and capacity within the network has outpaced 4G’s ability to perform.

A 2020 Ericsson mobility report noted that data traffic is growing by as much as 60% per year. The massive shift to telework that began in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also placed more pressure on cellular network providers. The answer to these new demands is the next generation mobile network referred to as 5G.

5G has been a collaborative effort within the wireless industry. It delivers unprecedented low latency, better performance, higher capacity and incredible data speeds. It operates on mmWave and sub-6 GHz bandwidths which contribute to 5G’s low latency and high capacity.

These frequencies require cell site operators to densify areas of operation with small cell sites. Small cell sites fill in the gaps between modified 4G/5G macrosites and broadband users. The more populated a coverage area is, the more sites required to support 5G.

The FCC has committed to expanding 5G and encouraging a swift transition to the network. The agency has worked to revise outdated regulations, update infrastructure policy and increase spectrum by auctioning off C-band (mid-band) spectrum licenses.

The addition of thousands of new 5G small cell sites will present unique challenges for cities as they work to establish and update infrastructure. One of the key issues as roll-out continues is the need for 5G concealment.

What is 5G Concealment?

The term 5G concealment describes materials and methods used to conceal 5G infrastructure from view. 5G concealment also protects 5G equipment from potential damage caused by vandalism, severe weather or other external factors. When designed correctly, 5G concealment offers an excellent solution for creating small cells while complying with local regulations.

The Origins of Cell Site Concealment

The cell site concealment trend began with 4G macro sites. Communities have long considered the imposing towers to be eyesores, particularly when constructed in natural environments like forests or open space. Many cities require cell sites to adhere to visual and structural guidelines. To combat this, equipment manufacturers designed methods to disguise cell towers and help them blend with the natural landscape.

The current iteration of large tower concealment has become quite sophisticated. A recent CNN Business article noted that most modern 4G concealment methods are nearly indistinguishable from their surroundings. This is valuable even as small cell sites are developed because 4G macro sites are being retrofitted to accommodate 5G.

Manufacturers have become increasingly clever in how they execute concealment. They leverage paint, artificial foliage and other materials to create the illusion that a tower belongs in its location. CNN Business noted examples such as towers designed to look like cactus in Arizona or palm trees in the south. Other towers have been designed to look like rural water towers or pine trees.

How is 5G Concealment Different?

5G concealment requires small cell network companies to adapt in a new way.

Concealment solutions are designed to integrate with city infrastructure and comply with regulations. While 5G small cell “towers” are a fraction of the size of 4G macro sites, the network requires thousands of additional sites to ensure success. Additionally, 5G cells require a power source to function and a way to connect to the network.

This means that cities must find hundreds or even thousands of strategic locations that provide all of these requirements. In a small city, a few undisguised small cells scattered around a less populated area might go largely unnoticed. However, that consideration changes as the population density increases within a smaller area, such as a heavily populated city.

Cities that want to join the new 5G era without compromising community aesthetics will likely find this complicated. Many communities will have to implement 4G and 5G concealment solutions on existing macro sites. At the same time, they will also have to develop new small sites. Other cities may rely on IoT poles (smart poles) to combine street lighting with smart technology. This option would reduce the need for modifications to poles that are not designed for small cell technology.

Why Has 5G Concealment Become a Necessary Part of Small Cell Sites?

A 2020 industry report compiled by CTIA states that there are currently more than 395,562 active cell sites located throughout the United States. Small cell deployment forecasts note that thousands more sites will need to be constructed to accommodate 5G. The compact size of a small cell makes it relatively easy to place. However, the large number of small cell sites presents problems for small cell site deployment.

Small Cell Problem #1: Site Proximity

5G relies on multiple sites working in close proximity to deliver on speed and capacity. The more densely populated an area is with device users, the more cells it will require to work efficiently. However, an extensive number of visible cell sites can quickly become visual clutter. Cities with unique architecture or historic buildings are particularly concerned about the visual impact of cell site infrastructure.

Small Cell Problem #2: Urban Footprint

Small cell sites must also be located close to users. This means they are typically installed at street level, such as a small cell antenna on a utility pole. As such, they are more noticeable to pedestrians than roof-based structures or distant towers. Communities who wish to remain in regulatory compliance without the visual clutter have to rely on concealment.

Small Cell Problem #3: Vandalism & Theft

Visible small cell sites are vulnerable to vandalism. This is compounded by their street-level proximity and easier accessibility. Their small size makes them easy to disable quickly. Constant repair or replacement of these sites diverts valuable time and labor from more lucrative tasks.

Small Cell Concealment in Action: New York City

New York City provides an excellent example of how to overcome 5G small cell deployment challenges. It is also an example of how small cell site design can be adapted to incorporate existing city infrastructure.

In New York City, high population and close proximity requires carrier networks to provide dense coverage within small areas. At the same time, the increased amount of equipment introduces aesthetic complications for both the city and the provider. Visible equipment is also a target for vandalism and theft across thousands of sites that cannot be monitored effectively.

New York City has solved the problem by working in partnership with cellular operators. The result is a functional 5G concealment solution that can be mounted on telephone poles. It also blends seamlessly with the environment.

In 2020, the city approved the single tenant wireless concealment design. It was described as an “unprecedented collaboration between DoITT and the cell phone carriers to produce a single, unobtrusive design.”

In August of 2021, the city approved a modified version of the single tenant design for multi-tenant deployment. The New York City DoITT website stated that “Multi-tenant 5G infrastructure also uses street assets more efficiently by reducing the number of poles needed for 5G while expanding service.”

Currently, the city has offered the use of 7,500 street poles for 5G small cell sites. Companies are allowed to reserve these poles for their equipment as they are released. The city has also strategically determined the location of available/released poles to ensure that 5G deployment is equitable across communities.

New York City provides one of several small cell deployment scenarios that cities can follow to incorporate 5G into the community. However, there are multiple 5G concealment solutions that can be implemented.

5G Concealment Solutions

ConcealFab has developed innovative 5G antenna concealment solutions to improve small cell base stations. There are a variety of products that can make small cell sites virtually invisible to their users.

Examples of 5G Concealment Components

The exact type of 5G concealment components required will vary by site. However, the basic function is applicable across most small cell sites.

5G Modular Shrouds

5G modular shrouds conceal heatsink and cables for mounted radios. When designed correctly, the shield equipment from view while allowing easy access for maintenance and repairs.

Rooftop Concealments & Screenwalls

Screenwalls conceal 5G cell sites from view without sacrificing signal strength. They can be used outdoors in a variety of weather conditions and are specifically designed to work with low-, mid- and high-band frequencies.

Cable Shrouds

Cable shrouds disguise wiring from view. In addition to creating a streamlined appearance, shrouds also protect wiring from the elements. Cable shrouds work with a variety of components, whether supporting sub 6 GHz attachments or mmW attachments.

Concealment Poles

5G pole concealment is an aesthetic option that works with multiple equipment configurations. 5G antenna concealment poles provide capacity and coverage in a given area while blending in with utility poles. It is a multi-function option for smart cities.

mmW Concealment Attachments

mmW shrouds are designed to house radios and mount a Sub 6 canister antenna. Sub 6 concealment options work in conjunction with mmW attachments/shrouds when necessary.

Best Practices for Selecting 5G Concealment Solutions

There are a few basic requirements to keep in mind when selecting components for 5G concealment. If applied during the small cell deployment process, they can reduce the need for repairs or replacement in the future.

Every 5G concealment situation is unique. That is why our team at ConcealFab works with you to create the most effective solution.


The need for hundreds of thousands of 5G small cell sites is a huge undertaking for cellular companies and their users. Small cell sites require communities to rely on innovative solutions such as 5G concealment to advance and optimize this new technology. Without 5G concealment, 5G doesn’t happen. We at ConcealFab are here to make it happen.