Wireless Technology

Small Cells For The Win: Powerful Connectivity During Major Events is No Longer a Wish List Item — It’s Now a Must

By Mike Montgomery

When the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers tipped off earlier this month in front of 20,000 fans at Oracle Arena, there were at least 20,000 (likely more) wireless devices in the audience. Those lucky enough to have scored the golden ticket didn’t hesitate to text, post on social networks, browse the web and yes, even stream live video during the game. And make no mistake about it, users expected that their messages, posts and videos would process without a hitch.

As anyone who has been to a sporting event, concert, rally or even a large graduation ceremony recently can attest, the absence of even a single bar or two of connectivity can be a frustrating experience. Networks quickly get bogged down when thousands of people with thousands of devices compete for the attention of the local communications infrastructure.

The most extreme example of this is the Super Bowl. In 2015 Verizon handled 7 terabytes of data at Super Bowl XLIX. In 2017, that number was up to 11 terabytes.

Stadiums use a hodgepodge of different methods to deal with the increased traffic. Today, most stadiums (including Oracle) have Wi-Fi — others work with communications companies on temporary solutions around large events.

Recently, we have seen stadiums take a more progressive and effective approach by installing antenna systems made up predominantly of a network of small cells — discreet nodes that can fit under seats or in the rafters. These antennas help build a more robust network inside the arena, specifically densifying the network by adding much needed capacity to deal with increased demand. That’s what U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis did before the most recent Super Bowl. Verizon upped its small cell count to 1,200 from 900, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, and AT&T and Sprint each deployed 800 small cells.

As demand for data grows, these tight-knit small cell networks must be expanded beyond stadiums and venues. Data traffic grew 238% over the last two years driven mostly by video and social networking. Further, traffic per user in North America is set to grow from 7 gigabytes today to 22GB by 2022.

The good news, small cells are already popping up in cities across America. Communications companies are investing heavily in small cell deployment understanding that our infrastructure is the bedrock of present and future connectivity. You see, not only do small cells add much needed capacity to power our current networks, but they are the key to ushering in the era of 5G – which will allow data to move 10 times faster than the current 4G network.

The bad news, largely due too unnecessary and dated regulatory red-tape, antennas are not being deployed quickly enough —a big reason the U.S. currently lags both China and South Korea is the race to 5G.

Just as the Warriors solidified themselves as the basketball dynasty of this generation with their clean sweep of the Cavaliers, America must establish itself as the technology dynasty of this generation by keeping us connected today and winning the race to 5G tomorrow — both of which start with infrastructure.

 

 

 

Mobile Connectivity Key To More Reliable Emergency Communications

mudslide

By Mike Montgomery

Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans own a mobile phone (95%), with three-quarters of us owning smartphones. Whether we’re ordering dinner or a ride home, apps on our phones always seem to know our location. It is a common misconception, however, that because apps like Lyft and Postmates know where we are, that in emergency situations, first responders will also be able to find us.

The truth is far more complicated. Our apps know where we are because of opt-in location services on our devices. Ride sharing services, for example, use GPS, cellular and Wi-Fi access points to pinpoint your location. But when calling 911 from your cell phone, the emergency operator will more than likely not know your exact location because the only information your phone transmits to the operator is the Caller ID and location of the nearest cell tower that is connecting the call. It is mind-boggling to think that more often than not, your pizza delivery person has more accurate location information than the paramedics – especially when you consider the fact that upwards of 80% of 911 calls originate from a mobile device.

Additionally, mobile communication plays a huge role in disaster mitigation. Mobile alerts are used to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing persons, natural disasters and other critical situations – an absolute necessity as more than 50% of households have abandoned their landline. Even the FCC has called wireless emergency alerts “an essential part of America’s emergency preparedness”.

Most municipalities have systems in place to alert residents of pending danger but often these systems require residents to know they exists (hint: many do not) and opt-in. And sometimes these systems fail – alerts come too late, or not at all. That’s what happened in Santa Barbara in January when mudslides wiped out hundreds of homes and killed at least 20 people. Residents in the evacuation areas said they never saw the mobile alerts. The state experienced similar problems late last year when trying to alert people to evacuate from massive fires in Santa Barbara and Napa Valley.

There is no denying the direct correlation between public safety and connectivity. As such, we must ensure that our communities always have access to the best available communications tools.

So, where do we start? The answer, infrastructure.

Upgrading our wireless infrastructure – specifically deploying a robust network of densification devices know as small cells – is key to ensuring present and future connectivity. Right now, our devices are mostly connected by large towers or macro antennas spread miles apart.

Small cells, on the other hand, are small antennas or nodes, affixed to existing infrastructure in close proximity to one another. The lack of distance between nodes is one of the factors that allows for the increased wireless coverage and capacity.

A robust small cell network makes for a more resilient and reliable network, which will ultimately allow for 911 operators to get a better read on where a person is located and ensure that mobile alerts are pushed out in an effective and timely manner.

Further, building out a permanent network of small cells across the country will not only help ensure our safety today, but will also serve as the backbone for future 5G networks that will redefine what we think of as being “connected”.

There’s no question that we must find better ways to utilize mobile technology to ensure people can find safety during an emergency, whether that means calling 911 or evacuating before a natural disaster. The devices we all carry in our pockets have the potential to save our lives, and it would be irresponsible of us to not take full advantage of the technology right at our fingertips.

If You Build It … 5G Networks Will Make Life Better

By Kish Rajan

U.S. consumers like to think we have the best of everything when it comes to the internet — didn’t we build it?

But we are lagging far behind other countries when it comes to building 5G networks. China just this month set a new industry record when it exceeded a throughput of 19 Gbps in 5G trials, on the way to a nationwide rollout of 5G by 2020.

5G-based technologies can have a vast impact on mobile connectivity in densely-populated areas and on the Internet of Things. Mobile data traffic worldwide is almost 800 million times higher than 15 years ago. By 2020, more than 50 billion devices and 212 billion sensors will be connected to network services.

Right now, China is on the cutting edge of 5G technology. Why aren’t we seeing the same in the U.S.? While several states are flirting with 5G networks, there’s no policy — and seemingly no interest — in getting one up and running nationwide.

And yet 5G can unlock enormous economic growth, help grow new businesses and jobs, improve transportation, save energy and greatly improve our infrastructure. According to an Accenture report, IoT improvements have the potential to create $160 billion in benefits and savings. Then there’s the economic boost of just building 5G networks. Accenture predicts that 5G could result in $275 billion in investments, creating 3 million new jobs nationally and growing GDP by $500 billion.

But nothing will happen unless we encourage the growth of 5G networks and eliminate outdated regulations. 5G requires 10 to 100 times more small cell antennas than a 4G network. Many municipalities are resisting them with long wait times for permits, unreasonable fees and conflicting regulations.

These small cells, about the size of a briefcase, typically are installed on utility poles. They have less range than a typical tower, but serve more users faster. They are easier and cheaper to install than large cell towers, and rely on density to provide fast data service. A college football stadium, for example, needs 40 to 60 of them to provide full coverage.

Virginia has made the most progress with new rules that make building a 5G network easier. Small cell antennas now are allowed statewide on lamp posts and utility poles. California, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana and Iowa are all looking at similar bills. Washington State is considering a bill that would streamline permitting and cap fees as a way to lay the groundwork for 5G networks there.

We also need national standards for using unlicensed spectrum to ensure a high quality of service and low interference. Broadband spectrum unlicensed by the FCC can be used by wireless operators as a relief valve for data traffic to speed up clogged pipes.

But for now, patchwork local regulations and the lack of a concerted, consistent national effort to build 5G networks mean U.S. consumers will be stuck with an outdated technology while we struggle to improve phone service and the backbone for smart cities, more efficient agriculture and even self-driving cars.