EE has dropped over 600 street-level mobile small cell sites in the UK

BT Small Cell Deployment - Birmingham

UK operator EE has deployed a ton of small cells in towns and cities in the UK designed to give its 4G coverage a shot in the arm.

Birmingham, Sheffield and Brighton are amongst the latest areas to be kitted out with EE’s small cells, designed to increase 4G capacity and reduce congestion in busy areas which are often plonked onto existing street infrastructure, such as telephone boxes, lamp posts, CCTV columns and BT’s Street Hubs.

A year ago it announced it had set up 200 of the things, and since then it has rolled out 411 more in cities such as Swansea, Leicester, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Southampton and York, as well as seasonally high traffic holiday areas such as Newquay, Paignton, Salcombe, Southend-on-Sea and Clacton-on-Sea. So it can be said progress has been fairly swift.

The small cell sites carry 20TB of data traffic every day, which we’re told is the equivalent of streaming 8,000 hours of HD video or 280,000 hours of music. In terms of deciding where to stick them, ‘advanced network analytics’ determine the specific locations that would most benefit from a performance bump. EE then brings Nokia along to deploy the 4G small cell which couples its licenced 1800MHz and 2600Mhz spectrum with unlicenced 5GHz spectrum.

“As demand for data continues to rise, small cells are becoming an increasingly integral part of our mobile network,” said James Hope, Director of Mobile Radio Access Networks, EE. “Our partnership with Nokia ensures customers continue to benefit from our fastest 4G speeds even at the busiest times and in the most congested of locations, and we’re proud to pass another milestone in this project as we continue to invest in improving the UK’s best mobile network* up and down the country.”

Cllr Alex Hay, Newcastle City Council cabinet member for a Resilient City added: “We’re really pleased to be working with EE to improve infrastructure and increase digital connectivity across the city. Matchdays see more than 50,000 people concentrated in a small area, and anyone who has attended football matches and other large events will know it can be difficult to obtain a mobile signal in those environments.

“By enabling the use of our assets for EE to deploy small cells, we’re boosting connectivity and giving residents and visitors alike an improved experience in our city. We’re proud of our reputation as a leading smart, modern city and are always willing to work with others to further develop local infrastructure.”

EE promises hundreds more small cells will be deployed in the coming months, and it is also apparently trialling plugging them in to its 5G network, since Nokia’s AirScale kit can be upgraded in such a way.

Anecdotally, it’s certainly grating to be in the middle of London or some other major city that you would assume had decent signal, and watch google maps stutter about as it attempts to connect. If small cells are a solution to such first world problems, so much the better.

A more elegant solution still presented itself at the end of last year with a pilot from Freshwave, which was pitched as ‘the first small cell network in the UK capable of hosting all four mobile network operators from day one.’ This would seem to be a more efficient approach than each operator cramming their own kit into any nook and cranny they can find between kebab shops and parking meters along the UK’s city streets.


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