A 100% solution to capacity and coverage needs? That will be small cells.
The news this week that AT&T has trialled two small cell deployments in the US and reported that they see them as a “100% solution” is further endorsement of the technology for delivering what mobile network operators truly need – an easy, cost-effective way to increase network capacity and coverage.
AT&T has over 100 million subscribers across the US – including myself – and its network has seen a gigantic increase in mobile data usage between the years 2006 and 2012 – demand for data rose by an almost unfathomable 30,000 per cent. With more than 1 billion smartphones now in use around the world, it is fair to say that demand for data will not be slowing down any time soon.
The two AT&T trials took place in Crystal Lake Park, Montana and Waukesha, Wisconsin, and the results were impressive. The Crystal Lake Park metro cell deployment saw a 17 per cent increase in mobile traffic, while in what was deemed a ‘problem building’ in Waukesha, traffic was increased by 15 per cent. Both deployments boosted usable coverage to around 100 per cent.
The benefits to end-users are clear; the two AT&T deployments bring the network directly to where it is needed, reducing notspots and greatly improving in-building coverage. Metro cells provide a much smaller, but more targeted coverage area than macros and can support more than 30 active connections. Ease of access is inherent to small cells, with no action required on the part of the mobile device end-user to enjoy immediately enhanced coverage and capacity.
By 2015, AT&T plans to have rolled out 40,000 small cells to enhance its network, with cells being installed in dense urban environments, both in-building and in outdoor locations such as courtyards or city centers. The end-product will be faster downloads and better voice quality for end-users in places they wouldn’t have received it previously.
The issue of where to site metro cells to deliver the desired results is becoming clearer and clearer. Operators now know that to give users increased capacity and enhanced Quality of Experience (QoE) in densely-populated, heavy footfall urban environments small, unobtrusive metro cells can be the answer. Similarly for operators that need to cost-effectively extend network coverage in rural areas without spoiling the natural landscape with large cell towers, metro cells are becoming the solution of choice. The successful AT&T trial deployments lend further evidence to the opinion of 98 per cent of mobile operators who recently stated that small cells are “essential to the future of mobile networks”.