If you think small cells need to be deployed in huge numbers to address the capacity crunch, think again.

That's the message from the Small Cell Forum, which has released new research showing that even a moderate number of small cells could go a long way.

"You might imagine by putting a small cell in, it's only a very tiny hotspot that you're actually addressing – so while they might carry a lot of data, you might not actually be able to address a large number of users, or you might need ridiculously large small cells before you helped with the data demands of a lot of your users," says Small Cell Forum Chairman Simon Saunders.

But in reality, Saunders says, "the research is indicating you get very good offload onto the small cells, even from a relatively moderate deployment."

With even one small cell per macrocell operating on the same frequency, about 20 percent of users will be offloaded, according to research released this week by the forum. That number rises to nearly 60 percent with four small cells per macrocell and 75 percent with 10 small cells per macro site.

The report also named some of the most pressing challenges for small cell deployments, notably backhaul, interference and installation.

The study was released during CTIA's annual spring conference in New Orleans. The event marks the first U.S. trade show for the group after its rebranding in February, when it changed its name from the Femto Forum to the Small Cell Forum to reflect its broader technology focus.

"We want to make sure there's an understanding that small cells are here to last," Saunders says. "It's not just part of the one narrow capacity-enhancing solution. It's how you build modern communications networks."

The Small Cell Forum has a sizeable presence at CTIA's conference, with a Thursday session that includes panelists from AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint.