London Needs 70,000 Cells For 4G Broadband

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Today’s 3G may crumble at the Olympics, warns Boris Johnson – beyond that, decent 4G needs a lot more cells

Femtocell maker Picochip says London needs large numbers of micro cell towers by 2015to provide good LTE  mobile broadband, while London mayor Boris Johnson has warned that next year’s London Olympics will push today’s 3G networks to their limits

Specifically, to offer a decent 4G LTE mobile broadband service, London needs the installation of 70,000 small cells spread right across the capital, as well as another 2,000 nodes to cover the Underground network by 2015,  Picochip CTO Dr Doug Pulley, told the Bath Basestation conference.

Cell Network

Dr Pulley’s report also stated that there needs to be in excess of ten million small cells worldwide by end of 2015, in addition to residential femtocells.

“For London to offer its residents high speed LTE mobile Internet in 2015, it needs 70,000 small cells and this will also deliver minimal traffic congestion,” said Dr Pulley. “With the Olympics just around the corner and the Mayor of London admitting that the networks will struggle to cope, the need for small cells to deliver added coverage and capacity is greater than ever.”

“While Wi-Fi will offer some respite to the network, ultimately London’s population density means that small cells, deployed in the most congested areas, are the only way for the mobile networks to cope with the traffic,” he said.

The idea is that the small cells (essentially small mobile phone towers or basestations), would be installed in retail locations (large shopping centres and small coffee shops etc), in businesses located in large office blocks. In addition, Dr Pulley estimates that almost 12,000 ‘outdoor’ metropolitan small cells and 1,772 covering London underground stations and walkways, will also be required.

Cheap Micro Option

“Small cells are already being deployed by network operators across the world in busy stations, shopping centres and airports for HSPA+,” said Rupert Baines, VP of Marketing at Picochip. “The report from our CTO is the first time that anyone has calculated, based on actual traffic patterns and population geography, together with data on new services and other factors, just how many small cells will be required to deliver the sort of mobile data rates that people want for LTE.”

“While 70,000 may sound like a lot, compared to the cost and complications associated with improving the network using big (macro) basestations, small cells offer a much easier, quicker and cheaper solution for network operators,” he said.

Capacity Crunch

As smartphones become ever more data hungry, they are rapidly swallowing the capacity of mobile networks, especially in the crowded south east of England. 4G technologies such as LTE and WiMax promise some relief here, but the arrival of LTE in the UK is still some time away.

This capacity crunch of mobile phone networks when starkly illustrated in December 2009, when O2 suffered a number of embarrassing network failures in London. The operator was forced to admit at that time that the crash was caused by the data strain from the increasing use of smartphones.

In May Ofcom published research that suggested that the arrival of 4G networks in the UK would offer a 200 percent capacity boost to the UK’s hard pressed networks.

Olympic Outages?

And last week London Major Boris Johnson warned that London’s mobile phone networks will face a “massive strain” during next summer’s Olympics.

His warning came amid concern that large sporting events such as the Olympics tend to result in mobile phone users using their handsets to access the internet, and send photos and videos.

“There is a huge amount of work going on at the moment to make sure that we have enough coverage,” Reuters quoted him as telling reporters an Olympic conference last week.

“We have got to be realistic, and in the 100 metres final or whatever it happens to be, people will want to download huge quantities all over the world, they will want to be sending huge quantities of data in JPEG (format) or film or whatever, and that will place massive strain on the network.”

The last time the UK experiences such a surge in mobile traffic was during the Royal wedding. Indeed, Vodafone reportedly installed portable 3G base stations near Kate Middleton’s home village of Bucklebury, ahead of the wedding.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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