We’ve been using ‘small cells’ as part of our mobile networks for many years, but we know you might have seen or heard some new information about them as we’ve continued to roll out and upgrade the technology that we use. We’ve gathered your most common questions about small cells here, along with straightforward answers.

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What is a small cell?

A small cell is a low powered radio transmitter for mobile phone services. Their small size makes them far more discreet. Telstra uses small cells to improve coverage, connectivity and customer mobile experience without the need to build as many big mobile towers.

Why does Telstra need to install small cells?

We are using mobile phones more than ever before and now devices such as smart watches, tablets and computers are also connecting to the mobile network. There is 60 times more traffic on the Telstra network today than there was 10 years ago.

Small cells are a way that we can cater for that demand, reduce congestion and improve connectivity without having to build more towers.

Why am I suddenly hearing about small cells?

Small cells are not new. We’ve used them in our cities and suburbs since the 2G era nearly 30 years ago. Now the new generation of small cell technology is available, Telstra is investing in it to improve our network and provide better mobile coverage and connectivity for our customers in high traffic areas.

What does a small cell look like?

Small cells are small enough that you might have already seen one without realising it.

They range in size from a large shoebox to a cricket bat – much smaller than a regular base station. Their small size allows them to be mounted on street lights or power poles, so they can blend more discreetly into their surroundings.

Here’s what a typical small cell looks like, mounted on the light pole to the right of this photo:

You can also see a typical 5G small cell at the top of this telephone pole:

Are small cells 4G or 5G?

Small cells can be either 4G or 5G, or even both. In fact, we have used 3G and even 2G small cells in the past.

How does Telstra decide where to put them?

We use small cells in locations where there are lots of people using our mobile network and where the use of a standard mobile base station might not be appropriate. This could be train stations, shopping centres or even suburban areas where there is high network traffic.

The small cells themselves are most often mounted on street lights, power or even tram poles to remove the need for building new structures.

What benefits do small cells offer me and my neighbourhood?

You should notice a big difference after the installation of a Telstra small cell and should experience better connectivity and more reliable mobile coverage.

Are small cells dangerous?

No. Telstra small cells use the same frequencies as our existing network, they are just smaller and use less energy. Telstra’s small cells are tested to the Government safety standards and are independently audited.

Where can I find more information?

You can find more information about Telstra’s small cells, 5G rollout and EME on our Small Cells information page. You can also visit the ACMA and ARPANSA websites to learn more.