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Thread: Shrinking Cell Phone Towers at MWC - New Palm-sized 'Small Cell' Disruptive Tech

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    Shrinking Cell Phone Towers at MWC - New Palm-sized 'Small Cell' Disruptive Tech


    A new potentially 'disruptive' technology has been unveiled at Mobile World Congress. It is called 'small cell' technology, and it could completely change the nature of cell phone towers. These new 'small cells' are about the size of a Rubik's Cube, as opposed to the ugly towers and fake trees & rocks dotting landscapes currently.

    According to our research, the benefits of this new technology are plentiful. The first benefit, of course, is the smaller size which makes it easier to install and virtually eliminates any placement difficulties. Next, these 'small cells' only need a power and a network connection. Thus, they could be placed on top of existing infrastructure, like lamp-posts and utility poles. Also, this technology is cheaper to build than traditional cell-phone towers. Finally, by covering an area with multiple 'small cells' instead of several large cell towers you get three additional immediate benefits to consumers.

    The first is that by having a large network of smaller connections you increase the reliability of the network with fewer dead spots. The second is that you are able to increase speeds because less people are saturating individual towers since the workload of the 3G and 4G data connections is spread out over multiple 'nodes'. Third, is an interesting hidden benefit, that we were skeptical of at first. However, after doing some extra digging we were able to more fully understand the way a cell phone tower functions.

    Apparently, our cell phones have to effectively 'yell' at the cell phone tower to be 'heard' by it. The more people in an area that are using the same cell phone tower, the more our cell phones have to increase their signal strength in order to be 'heard' by the tower. By having multiple nodes spread over a larger area, less people will be sharing the same node, and ultimately we will actually see improved battery life from our phones.

    This new technology has some hurdles to overcome at first. The primary one is that even though the 'small cells' only need power and a network connection, that network connection needs to be a fiber connection to the phone companies network. This is probably not a huge issue in larger cities, but it will be fairly expensive to implement this in some rural areas and small towns where installing fiber connections is prohibitively more expensive.

    Another stumbling block to the technology is making the newer technology work with the older technology in a "heterogeneous" network. The main problem is minimizing the radio interference between the two types of cells.

    Still, there are several big name players investing heavily in this technology, and they are confident they can overcome these obstacles. The two big name conglomerates that debuted their tech at MWC over the weekend were Alcatel-Lucent, with their "lightRadio Cube" and Texas Instruments-Azcom, with their "KeyStone multicore architecture".

    Here is a quote from the TI-Azcom partnership,
    "With the small cell market now poised to transform the wireless network topology, our new base station platform with Azcom serves as a great stepping stone for designers to stay ahead of the cost, time and performance curve," said Kathy Brown, manager of TI's wireless base station infrastructure business. "Leveraging our decade-long experience in the wireless infrastructure market, we know what it takes for developers to succeed, and there is no doubt that they will now be able to quickly ramp up to field trials for any and all small cell base station configurations."
    Here are a couple quotes from other companies in the cell phone industry who shared their perspective on the technology,
    "If it is what they claim, lightRadio could be a highly disruptive force within the wireless industry," said Dan Hays, who focuses on telecommunications at consulting firm PRTM.
    Rasmus Hellberg, director of technical marketing at wireless technology developer Qualcomm Inc., said smaller cells can boost a network's capacity tenfold, far more than can be achieved by other upgrades to wireless technology that are also in the works.
    This technology is similar to "femtocell" technology that companies like AT&T and Verizon have been using in homes for a couple of years now. The femtocell tech is a USB device that helps boost your phone signal strength in a couple of rooms in your house. The difference is that the 'small cell' technology can scale to much larger networks and obviously can handle a lot more power. Ultimately, it is conceivable that we will see a convergence of both of these technologies. Who knows, perhaps eventually we will be walking around with our own portable cell phone tower built-in to our phones. Like the old adage says, "The truth is stranger than fiction."

    Source: Yahoo! News and TheStreet.com
    Editorial by dgstorm
    Last edited by dgstorm; 02-15-2011 at 10:47 AM.
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    Wow. That's huge. Makes wireless home broadband an affordable reality. Heck, just imagine the potential for current annoyances - put a box in the subway, tunnels, even tall office buildings with bad reception.

    Amazing that a little box like that could replace a tower. Exciting stuff
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    I'm sure this was thought of in the design of this, but I'd like to see the answer. What is the effective range and signal strength of this device and does its range provide an adequate distance for efficient tower hand off allowing sustained service at highway/train speeds? I can see this being very useful in a sedentary situation where the towers are over subscribed, but if people can't use it on mass transit in cities I don't see it being adopted.
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    Cool Amazing new tech!!

    This is an awesome concept though I don't think it will nullify the use of towers. It will definitely be useful in those deadspots especially in those urban or mountainy areas. you get in between hills or in a valley and your out of signal what a great concept. we use a version of this but it's just a small antenna that we hide like in a tall flag pole.
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    Yes!! This will allow Verizon to dramatically decrease their cost of increasing and maintaining network infrastructure while increasing network reliability and they will pass those cost-savings on to us, their loyal...uhhh...nevermind. Forget I said anything...
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    I saw something similar (maybe the same thing) a year or two ago. If I remember correctly, the range is quite limited, like maybe a few hundred meters (which I'm sure can be improved). But if you put one on each lampost that's not an issue. On the other hand, that's A LOT of labor to install.

    The first obvious application would be in subway tunnels, which would be a pretty big deal for a lot of commuters in big cities (not to mention with VoLTE you'd have cell service as well).

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