BT is partnering with local authorities in UK towns and cities, including Leeds, to boost mobile coverage by mounting small cell antennas on street furniture such as lampposts and CCTV columns.
The technology and telecoms firm is also using its own assets, including phone boxes and its Street Hub 2.0 digital units, so its mobile arm EE can house hundreds of small cells to boost capacity in high demand areas. Small cells are mobile radio cells that help to provide better coverage for customers at street level, where it’s often impractical to install larger mobile masts or where an offloading capability is required.
The programme will allow EE customers to experience uninterrupted data speeds of up to 300mbps in areas including Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff. In addition to enabling small cell deployment by EE, BT is also working with other UK mobile network operators to deploy small cells around the UK to help extend and densify their high-speed mobile network coverage. The infrastructure will be delivered over the next 18 months and can also support 5G network coverage in the future.
Brian More O’Ferrall, Director, Mobile Operators in BT’s Enterprise business, said: “Around 200 of the small cells are already live and are helping to boost 4G coverage for EE customers in towns and cities across the UK.
“We have worked closely with our local authority partners to utilise their street furniture, as well as our own assets, to improve connectivity in these areas.
“Ensuring good digital infrastructure is a priority for many councils, especially with the rise in mobile device ownership and growth in demand for data and connectivity, and they have seen the benefits that such partnerships can provide.
“Not only does it mean that average download speeds can often double in some areas, but it’s also more efficient and means there is a reduced need for new cell masts in the localities.
“We’re pleased to be working with EE and other mobile network operators to deliver this coverage boost.”
EE was the first UK network to combine unlicensed and licensed spectrum in a single 4G small cell. Using Licensed-assisted access (LAA) allows network operators to exploit the additional capacity of 5GHz spectrum for a downlink to the mobile phone. Not only does this provide additional capacity but also improves the quality of service of key mobile functions, such as video streaming.
The small cells will be deployed across the UK including the following areas:
- Greater London (including numerous London boroughs)
- Greater Manchester
Cllr Debra Coupar, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Resources, Leeds City Council, said: “Leeds’s ambition is for all residents, visitors and businesses to have access to the best possible connectivity and with demand set to grow over the coming years this partnership work with BT, alongside our Leeds Full Fibre Programme, will help us achieve that.
“It’s fantastic that our existing street furniture, together with BT assets, can provide a simple and efficient solution to fast-track mobile network infrastructure in our city.”
BT is using its new Street Hub 2.0 units to site small cells and further boost connectivity, which comes after a recent survey by the company found that two thirds of small firms agree that mobile connectivity could be improved in their area. The new units have already been rolled out in Glasgow, Nottingham and London. Subject to local planning processes, BT is aiming to roll out around 300 Street Hub 2.0 units across the UK this year, working closely with local councils and communities.
Today’s announcement also comes after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, recently launched its new Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator (DCIA) scheme to enable telecoms firms to get easier access to public buildings and street lights, bus shelters and traffic lights to mount small cell equipment for 4G and 5G networks.
Through the pilots managed by DCIA, BT will be working closely with DCMS and local authority partners to further accelerate small cell deployment across the UK.