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Small Cells Could Solve AT&T's Data Problem

Small Cells Could Solve AT&T's Data Problem

At the heart of AT&T's strategy to keep pace with consumers' increasing appetite for mobile data is small cell technology. Small cells improve network coverage and capacity in areas that can't be served effectively by traditional cell towers. They use spectrum more efficiently, relieving the burden on wireless networks.

By Jeff Kagan
02/07/13 5:00 AM PT

It looks as though AT&T Mobility has developed a small cell solution to the wireless industry's spectrum shortage -- a data capacity problem that will affect customers of every carrier. AT&T's is not the only solution -- there will be others as well -- but it is an important one.

The wireless industry has been dealing with this ever since the explosion of smartphones several years ago. The system is increasingly stressed with many customers using so much wireless data. The problem is spectrum, which provides the on- and off-ramps to the information superhighway. It's limited. Therefore, as with any highway, the threat of backups and traffic jams is growing.

Now it appears AT&T Mobility might have a solution. Small cells can lessen the effects of an industry-wide capacity shortage. This is exactly the kind of solution I've been hoping for over the last few years.

And Connections for All

Small cells take the pressure off accessing the wireless Internet, while strengthening networks at their weak spots. Every network has weak spots, and this is a real solution.

Small cells are installed in key locations, inside buildings or in busy outdoor areas, to solve this access problem. They give everyone the ability to connect and use wireless data devices like smartphones, tablets and notebooks.

Wireless data spectrum shortages are a real threat to all wireless carriers, large and small, including AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, C Spire Wireless, U.S. Cellular and others. An industry-wide solution must be found.

John Donovan, senior executive vice president at AT&T technology and network operations, wrote a blog post explaining this breakthrough. AT&T has successfully tested small deployments in two U.S. Cities, and the devices are working.

Better, Stronger

Because of this success, AT&T is preparing to roll out small cells to more than 40,000 locations by the end of 2015. The focus will be on strategic weak spots in the network to dramatically improve service and quality.

AT&T is not alone. Other wireless networks likely will take this same course. Small cells are expected to reach a half million units this year, with more growth to come.

While small cell technology won't solve the entire wireless data shortage, it does offer a real solution that will not only help carriers with their explosive wireless data needs, but also strengthen signals in all the weak spots that were a problem in the past.

As wireless becomes more important in our lives and to our society, the networks must get stronger, faster and better -- and with small cells, they will.


E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is an industry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com.


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