Canadian Carriers Turn to Small Cell Technology to Fill Urban Connectivity Gaps

by Jeff Wiener on January 22, 2016

Small_cells_in_urban_macro_networkStrangely enough while Canadian carriers continue to struggle to fill the connectivity gaps throughout sparsely populate rural areas of the country; they are at the same time struggling to patch the network holes in densely populated urban centres as well. The problem with the latter has always been that in dense cities wireless signals struggle to flow freely through the concrete jungle, meaning certain users may be hard-pressed to find wireless connectivity in their homes or offices, or even in certain parts of their homes or offices.

In an effort to fill such dead zones in network coverage, giving everyone the best wireless experience possible, Canadian carriers are turning to a solution we’ve seen bandied about for several years now: small cell technology. By installing these diminutive, short-range devices as strategic points throughout densely populated urban centres, carriers will be able to better establish comprehensive coverage, as the cells will work in conjunction (sometimes even replacing) with the larger, “macro” cell tower infrastructure that we commonly associate with wireless networks.

While all major Canadian carriers do utilize small cell technology already, look for 2016 to be the year where this technology comes to the fore, as carriers look for ways of providing the ubiquitous technology our increasingly connected everything existence demands.c

Now I would argue that for the more part Canadians don’t care about the technology used to create reliable and accessible network coverage, they just want to know that when they need to connect, the connection is strong and fast. But as I said, the problems in Canada are that carriers either have to foot the bill for providing network coverage over expansive and sparsely populated rural communities, or they have to find ways of penetrating the alternatively dense concrete jungle of the country’s huge metropolitan centres. It is the latter where small cells will likely play a growing role this coming year.

As mentioned, small cells work both to bolster and bandage nationwide 3G/4G/LTE networks, increasing network coverage in areas were traditional coverage has been weak, working alongside traditional cell towers, even replacing them when required. With a range between a few metres and a few kilometres, by installing small cells in key locations, such as buildings, lamp posts, or busy outdoor spaces like parks, Canadian carriers will be able to broaden their blanket coverage, allowing their respective networks to handle more devices at once, thus allowing more people to connect to wireless networks using smartphones, tablets, and other wireless technology.

While not a new technology per seand one rife with unresolved security concerns—small cells are one key piece to the spectrum puzzle, as carriers look for ways to expand their network coverage and better utilize the bandwidth they have available.

According to reports, in 2015 Telus deployed more than 2000 small cells around Vancouver and Calgary, surpassing Rogers and Bell estimates of around 500 cells respectively. While no carrier has officially acknowledged their small cell deployment numbers, they do seem to be on the rise, if for no other reason than newly arrived competitor Shaw—who recently completed its takeover of WIND Mobile, after which the entire company was purchased by the Corus Entertainment group—already has extensive Wi-Fi hotspot infrastructure in place, at least in Western Canada, which could easily be redeployed as small cell network support to help differentiate the company from its incumbent competitors.

All that to say, there’s no question that small cells are useful for carriers to effectively utilize their spectrum resources, allowing those carriers to close connectivity gaps in dense urban jungles, and it seems that 2016 will only see further growth of this technology, particularly as part of the groundwork for forthcoming 5G wireless technology and the growing Internet of Things.

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