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Small cells bringing fast mobile coverage to where it’s needed most

Network

Posted on April 15, 2019

5 min read


‘Small cells’ are an important part of our mobile network, providing additional capacity in busy cities and metropolitan areas without the visual impact of a full mobile base station. They also enhance mobile coverage in regional and rural areas, often at a fraction of the cost of a mobile tower while still providing effective service to where it’s needed.

Small cells, sometimes referred to as ‘mini base stations’, are small enough that you might have already seen one in the suburbs around you without realising – they’re generally made up of one or two small antennas and a small equipment cabinet, typically installed on existing infrastructure like light poles, bus shelters, advertising billboards or payphone cabinets.

Because they’re compact and unobtrusive, small cells can be installed where a large tower or antenna might not be suitable. They typically provide mobile coverage to an area of around 200 to 400 metres from the cell itself, meaning they can be installed discreetly in busy commercial areas and suburbs without causing a significant visual impact.

We’re all using more data than ever on our mobile devices, and more devices of all kinds are being connected to our network every day. Small cells help us maintain the best performing network for you, and to meet the future data and connectivity demand that technologies like 5G will bring with them.

In our cities and suburbs, we’ve used small cells for years – since the 2G era, more than 25 years ago – to help handle the ever-increasing demand for mobile coverage and capacity. A small cell on a telegraph pole or street light helps to extend 4G coverage into a nearby apartment block, and small cells at city intersections manage the data demands of the thousands of workers that stream past on weekday mornings and afternoons.

We’ve installed small cells in many metropolitan areas, but also in regional and rural locations where it’s not feasible to construct a mobile base station. At Adventure Bay on Bruny Island off the coast of Tasmania, for example, we’ve installed a small cell at the beach to allow visitors to share pictures and videos on social media, as well as to make calls and send messages to friends and family around the world.

In the most remote areas of Australia, we even use small cells connected to satellite backhaul to bridge the coverage gap – bringing mobile connectivity to areas that have never had coverage before and that do not have the fibre infrastructure in place to suit a mobile base station installation. A satellite small cell already helps connect the town of Winton in Queensland – a sheep and cattle industry hotspot for the Central West region, as well as Australia’s ‘dinosaur capital’ – to the world.

Are small cells safe?

We’ve done extensive testing on electromagnetic energy (EME) around small cell installations, using independent accredited EME assessors, to fully answer this important question. Small cells use low power levels and are designed to comply with Australia’s mandatory EME safety standards, and our testing shows that EME levels near small cells are very low – far below EME safety limits, which themselves have a significant safety margin built in.

Using the example of a small cell in a metropolitan area providing extra mobile coverage and capacity to local homes and businesses as an example, our independent testing shows EME levels that are less than 0.2% of the EME safety limits – more than 500 times below the mandatory safe levels. Standing directly under a small cell on a street light pole produced the same result of less than 0.2% of the EME safety limits.

Even when a small cell is loaded with traffic in a busy area, EME levels are still very low and far within EME safety limits. We tested a small cell installed in a conference centre, and even at a close distance of two metres from the cell itself EME levels were more than 50 times below safe EME limits.

All small cells are specifically designed for the locations they are installed in. While we currently only use small cells for 4G network technology, we will use a range of different base station types including small cells for our ongoing 5G network roll-out. We only use small cells that meet the mandatory EME safety limits, and our independent testing shows real-world EME levels far, far below those safety thresholds.

Small cells give us a great, safe way to extend our 4G network coverage and capacity, including into areas around Australia that have never had mobile coverage before. For more information on our EME community advice, you can head to our Understanding EME website.

We’re bringing coverage to more communities in regional Australia

Regional Network

Posted on March 18, 2019

3 min read

Under Round Four of the Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program, we’re building 131 new mobile base stations and small cells to remove black spots and improve coverage for customers living in regional and remote areas.

In Round Four of the Mobile Black Spot Program, we’re contributing $23.3 million of the $55.6 million co-investment required for the new sites, alongside $18 million from the Commonwealth and $14.3 million from the Queensland, SA, Victorian and WA State Governments.

In this round of the Mobile Black Spot Program we will deliver 49 sites to New South Wales, 18 to Queensland, 19 to South Australia, 22 to Victoria and 23 to Western Australia. Many of these locations also address coverage at nearby public interest areas, like tourist attractions and health and emergency services facilities.

After the fourth round of the Mobile Black Spot Program is completed, we will have invested over $280 million and built over 780 new sites to improve coverage for regional areas around the country – a significant proportion of the total 1047 towers co-funded by Government under the Program since 2015.

We’ve already delivered more than 550 new mobile base stations across Australia under the Mobile Black Spot Program, bringing new and improved coverage to regional and remote areas and opening up new opportunities and economic benefits for communities and customers.

After our trial of small cells in Tasmania, we’ll continue to use small cell technology as an innovative and cost-effective approach to fixing black spots. A small cell is essentially a miniature version of a standard mobile base station, allowing us to deliver 4G coverage to areas where existing coverage is minimal or not available without the hundreds of thousands of dollars of infrastructure that a standard mobile base station typically requires.

Improving mobile coverage means people and businesses in regional and remote communities can do many things on the go that those in the cities take for granted – sharing on social media, streaming music and video, working remotely, or simply staying in touch with friends and family regularly. In the past, our Mobile Black Spot Program work has brought mobile coverage to the Pub With No Beer, connected Eggs and Bacon Bay to the world, and helped avocado farmers in Comboyne to monitor crops using IoT.

Over the five years to June 2019, our investment in our mobile network will total around $8 billion, of which around $3 billion will have been invested in regional areas. Our mobile network is supported by more than 9900 mobile base stations, covers more than 2.5 million square kilometres of the country, and reaches 99.5 per cent of the Australian population.

As well as our continued investment in our mobile network and the ongoing roll-out of new and improved coverage under the Mobile Black Spot Program, we’re investing in 5G with more than 200 5G-enabled sites already up and running, and more to come in 2019.

Bridging the coverage gap: The Telstra 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell

Regional Network

Posted on June 12, 2018

4 min read

Today we’ve launched the Telstra 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell, a new solution to help people living and working in some of Australia’s most remote places purchase their own coverage extension of our 4GX mobile service.

With the Telstra mobile network now covering 99.4 per cent of the population, we’ve been looking for an innovative solution to bring mobile coverage to the remaining 0.6 per cent of the population who live in rural and remote pockets of Australia.

The Telstra 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell is a smaller, lower cost version of a standard mobile base station that uses satellite backhaul to give customers access to Telstra’s 4GX-lite service which can support voice, email, messaging, social media posts, browsing and basic data. Due to constraints with the satellite backhaul it is not intended to support data heavy applications, like high definition video streaming or video calling and conferencing.

With the Telstra mobile network now covering 99.4 per cent of the population, we’ve been looking for an innovative solution to bring mobile coverage to the remaining 0.6 per cent.

We know how frustrating it can be for many businesses and communities in regional areas who want to use the innovative technology on offer to grow their businesses or connect their people, but due to cost and distance from existing infrastructure they are unable to get mobile coverage.

This innovative solution will bridge that gap.

The Satellite Small Cell is funded by co-contributions from Telstra and the customer, where the customer pays an initial amount to cover the cost of installation and we build and maintain the small cell, reducing the cost of gaining access to new coverage from hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new base station to tens of thousands.

Essentially, the customer determines the capacity and depth of mobile coverage that they need and then works with us to craft a solution that works for them. It’s an exciting new option for communities and businesses like mines, roadhouses, farms and agricultural business.

Queensland’s Winton Council will be the first customer to use the Telstra 4GX-lite Satellite Small Cell, using the solution to bring coverage to some parts of the Winton shire for the first time and to help grow tourism in the area. Winton is a remote area, driven by rural industry and tourism – all industries where mobile coverage can provide so much in terms of innovation, connectivity and safety.

Successful trials have been held over the last 12 months at five sites across Australia, with a total of 16 trial sites expected to be on air by July 2018. We aim to deliver up to 500 Satellite Small Cells over the next three years.

The Telstra 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell is one of a number of products Telstra has specifically designed to improve mobile coverage for remote and regional Australians, including the Yagi antennae and the Telstra Go Repeater.

The launch of the Telstra 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell builds on our successful contribution to improving coverage for all Australians and provides a useful complement to the Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program, which has so far seen mobile coverage extended to more than 170,000 square kilometres of country Australia.

Telstra 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell facts

  • This product is only available where there is no existing Telstra mobile coverage.
  • It is suited to small rural and remote communities such as tourism hotspots, remote roadhouses, mines and centres of agri-business.
  • The small cell will be on a standalone platform or attached to an existing building on the customer’s land, provided by the customer at no cost to Telstra.
  • In most cases, the customer will provide mains power for the small cell at no on-going cost to Telstra (single 10 amp circuit required). Options can be tailored to meet the customer’s budget.
  • Telstra provides and installs all the necessary equipment, with the cost of installation payable by the customer.
  • Coverage is provided via Telstra’s 4GX 700 MHz band.
  • Voice calls will require VoLTE enabled 4GX devices.

Small cells to boost mobile capacity and speeds for our customers

Network 5G

Posted on March 21, 2018

3 min read

Smart cells boost speed

We have installed more than 50 4G small cells across the Melbourne CBD as the first stage of a national small cell rollout to boost capacity and speed in some of Australia’s busiest locations.

A small cell is a miniature version of a standard mobile base station that adds additional mobile capacity at some of Australia’s busiest locations.

We’ve been using small cells to extend coverage mostly in rural and remote areas for several years, now we are deploying them in CBD locations around Australia as a cost-effective way to handle the ever growing demand for data.

Recently, we’ve completed a small cell blitz of Melbourne’s CBD, installing more than 50 new 4G cells at some of the city’s busiest locations. It’s part of a plan over the next three years to roll out 1,000 new small cells as part of boosting capacity and speed in metro and regional locations for our customers.

The small cell sites in Melbourne’s CBD criss-cross east to west between Spring Street and Spencer Street, and north to south between La Trobe Street and Flinders Street.

A cylindrical small cell antenna on a street sign on the corner of Degraves St, Melbourne
A cylindrical small cell antenna on a street sign on the corner of Degraves St, Melbourne.

Each 4G small cell deployment utilises existing CBD mobile infrastructure at locations such as information hubs and street light and electricity poles, and main intersections.

The busiest small cells are located near the intersections of Spencer St and Collins St; Spencer St and Bourke St; and Flinders St and St. Kilda Rd. Traffic carried on these cells is between two and three times the average CBD small cell traffic.

These new 4G small cell sites will ensure Telstra customers continue to enjoy the benefits of an excellent experience on our network* at a time when data consumption continues to grow more than 40 per cent every year.

Working in concert with our existing 3G and 4G base stations across the city, the small cells will deliver fast internet browsing, video streaming, social media or a mobile office to our customers.

By mid-year, we will take this one step further with the activation of additional LTE-Advanced features like Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) in the CBD to create a leading edge Heterogeneous Network (HetNet). This will further boost the efficiency and performance of the network in the CBD.

Now that we’ve successfully installed 4G small cell sites in Melbourne’s CBD, we will be looking to expand the small cells footprint in other CBD and urban areas. Some of these areas include Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, as well as our continuing use of them as an alternative for enhancing coverage in regional areas.

* Based on national average of combined 3G/4G mobile speeds.

We’re trialing small cells on Tasmania’s power poles to fix mobile black spots

Network 5G

Posted on March 20, 2018

2 min read

Telstra Small Cells on TasNetworks infrastructure

We have announced we will trial the installation of small cell mobile technology on TasNetworks‘ electricity distribution infrastructure to help fill some of Tasmania’s mobile black spots.

The small cells trial will begin with a single site in the Weldborough area, where a small cell installed on TasNetworks infrastructure will provide new mobile voice and broadband coverage.

With the construction of a standard mobile base station typically costing several hundreds of thousands of dollars, small cells may allow us to deliver mobile coverage and capacity to smaller communities and areas where the construction of a mobile base station would otherwise be uneconomical.

The trial will test the feasibility of using existing TasNetwork power poles to improve mobile coverage in parts of Tasmania.

Announcing the trial in Tasmania last week, CEO Andy Penn said we’re “at the forefront of delivering world class mobile services to Tasmanians, and we’re determined to continue to lead as the development and introduction of 5G technology commences by 2020.”

In FY18, we’ll invest $14.5 million on 45 projects across Tasmania to improve and maintain mobile coverage through capacity and speed upgrades to existing base stations, new small cells for 4G coverage, as well as our contribution to the Mobile Black Spot Program.

From supporting sales workforces in the field to small art galleries being able to take credit card payments for the first time, mobile connectivity is becoming more and more vital to small business growth and stability.

This investment is just one of the ways we’re improving mobile and fixed line coverage for residents, businesses and visitors in Tasmania.