Driven by a new generation of wireless user equipments and the proliferation of bandwidth-intensive applications, mobile data traffic and network load are increasing in unexpected ways, and are straining current cellular networks to a breaking point. In this context, heterogeneous cellular networks, which are characterized by a large number of network nodes with different transmit power levels and radio frequency coverage areas, including macrocells, remote radio heads, microcells, picocells, femtocells and relay nodes, have attracted much momentum in the wireless industry and research community, and have also gained the attention of standardization bodies such as the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) LTE/LTE-Advanced and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Mobile Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX).
The impending worldwide deployments of heterogeneous cellular networks bring about not only opportunities but also challenges. Major technical challenges include the co-existence of various neighboring and/or overlapping cells, intercell interference and mobility management, backhaul provisioning, and self-organization that is crucial for efficient roll-outs of user-deployed low-power nodes. These challenges need to be addressed urgently to make the best out of heterogeneous cellular networks. This asks for a thorough revisit of contemporary wireless network technologies, such as network architecture and protocol designs, spectrum allocation strategies, call management mechanisms, etc. There is also an urgent need in the wireless industry, academia and even end-users to better understand the technical details and performance gains that heterogeneous cellular networks would make possible.