Mobile device users in the city of San Francisco may soon find themselves enjoying much enhanced 4G network speeds in specific locations in the next few months. That is because Verizon Wireless is planning to lay down 400 small cells (pint-sized transmitters) all over certain neighborhoods in the Fog City, including South of Market (SoMa), Financial District, Market Street, and North Beach.
Small cells have a distinct advantage over your regular tower-mounted macro cells. For one, small cells can be mounted on light or utility poles. Even though they carry the same amount of capacity compared to large macro cells, the capacity of small cells is concentrated on a smaller and more specific area. Verizon's small cells are configured to have a capacity that can serve a radius of 250 feet to 500 feet.
But why build small cells in the first place when you already have tower-mounted macro cells? Carriers usually utilize small cells to layer specific amounts of capacity in locations where there is high network traffic and high demand for connectivity (i.e. where many mobile users converge). San Francisco is a perfect example of such a location. The city has a flourishing tech industry and its population has a significant percentage of people who like to be connected to the Internet via their smartphones or tablets.
Of course, Verizon Wireless has also installed small cells in other cities such as New York, Chicago, and Phoenix, areas wherein the cell network has similar requirements to San Francisco. But the Big Red has chosen San Francisco as the testing ground because Verizon customers in the city consume data more than any other city in the United States.
With the 400 small cells blanketed all over the city, Verizon Wireless is expecting a three-fold improvement in capacity. Furthermore, customers should also enjoy boosts in average network speed since small cells divide their capacity among a fewer number of users.
It should be noted that Verizon Wireless is not the only wireless carrier that is rolling out small cells. As a matter of fact, AT&T is currently in the process of deploying its own small cells in selected states. But Verizon's endeavor marks the first time this great a number of small cells have been laid down in one city. Where other wireless carriers use small cells in order to plug a hole in capacity, the Big Red is deploying them to establish a very dense network in a single area. This is where it can get tricky -- if small cells are installed too close to one another, they might interfere with each other's signals.
Right now, Verizon Wireless is coordinating with San Francisco in order to use the city's utility infrastructure in installing the small cells. The carrier is expecting installation work to commence in the second quarter of this year. By the end of 2015, all 400 small cells should be functional already.
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