Wednesday, January 30, 2013

AT&T Small Cells Tackle Coverage Issues

AT&T is constantly fighting to improve bandwidth on its overcrowded network.  To combat problematic issues with the network  AT&T is testing Small Cells.

The small cell test increased traffic by 17 percent and boosted outdoor areas to nearly 100 percent usability.

In some areas the Small Cells gave the area almost 100 percent coverage and virtually eliminated dropped calls. AT&T did not, however, specify what happened to download speeds after small cells added all those users to the network.

Procuring additional spectrum bands is one way networks expand capacity, but in places with high population densities or difficult geographies, coverage can still be an issue. For this, networks like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon are beginning to deploy small cells.

Small cells aren’t just one piece of hardware technology, but rather a collective term for cellular coverage solutions that target smaller geographical areas and numbers of people. A device that’s 250 mW, for example — which is fairly low power — can support up to 32 users and cover the area of a large building. But small cells are available at a number of power levels, so a 5 W one could support 200 users and cover hundreds of square meters, or a 1 W one could be targeted at 10 meters of subway entrance and cover 64 to 128 concurrent users.

A traditional cell tower generally covers a 1.5 km area (although in somewhere flat and rural, like the desert, a tower could cover a 10 km area) and ideally may only have 80 to 90 people on the network at one time. More than that, and bandwidth starts coming down, calls start getting dropped, and users get frustrated.

All the major carriers, including AT&T, are rolling out their small cell technologies over the next few years. Unlike the seemingly random roll out of 3G and then 4G LTE networks across the nation, small cells should start popping up in areas with the most problematic coverage first.