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EE deploys small cell technology to boost UK mobile quality

BT-owned UK mobile network teams with Nokia to deploy small cell technology and improve 4G coverage in busiest areas of UK

With quality of service a key differentiator in an ever more competitive market, leading UK mobile operator EE has announced that it has successfully deployed 200 new small cells across its UK network to boost capacity in high-demand areas.

The small cells comprise mobile radio cells designed to help to provide better coverage for customers at street level, where it’s often impractical to build larger sites. Working with local authorities, EE is making use of existing street assets to minimise the impact of the new cells, including lamp posts, CCTV columns and BT phone boxes.

They will be located on a variety of existing street assets, including the iconic red telephone boxes still present throughout the UK. The units offer discreet boosters for coverage and are part of EE’s objective to maintain leadership in the UK’s mobile network arena, as stated by recent research.

The small cells are said to allow customers to benefit from download speeds up to 300Mbps and provide more extensive network capacity than any other UK operator, due to EE’s combination of licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

EE claims to have been the first UK network to combine licensed and unlicensed spectrum in a single 4G small cell. It says using licensed-assisted access (LAA) allows network operators to exploit the additional capacity of 5GHz spectrum for a downlink to the mobile phone. The company added that not only does this provide additional capacity, but it also improves the quality of service of key mobile functions such as video streaming.

The project is being carried out in partnership with leading communications technology provider Nokia, which will also see EE use advanced network analytics to identify areas where small cells will deliver a boost to network performance. A 4G small cell service is then deployed, which uses multiple spectrum bands to give a better experience. EE’s licensed 1800MHz and 2600Mhz spectrum bands are coupled with unlicensed 5GHz spectrum, to deliver standout speeds in densely congested areas.

After initially rolling out the technology in Leeds, London and Manchester, EE and Nokia have also brought these new small cells online in parts of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Scarborough. Hundreds more small cell deployments are planned in the next 18 months, as EE uses the technology to bring additional network capacity to more locations, including some summer hotspots.

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EE’s commitment to providing the highest possible quality of experience will also see its use of small cells extend to its 5G network, with trials expected to begin soon. Nokia’s AirScale portfolio can also be upgraded to 5G.

Commenting on the deployment, David Salam, director of mobile networks at EE, said: “EE has been the number one network for eight years running and we are committed to maintaining the best possible customer experience. Investment and innovation are the key to consistent network improvement and this partnership with Nokia, to deploy small cells to support our 4G – and in the future, 5G – network, is a new solution to maintain our network leadership in the UK.”

Mark Atkinson, senior vice-president of radio access networks at Nokia, said: “We are proud to partner with EE to realise the deployment of high-capacity small cells across the UK.

“Nokia’s extensive portfolio of outdoor and indoor small cells provides premium 4G and 5G performance in dense urban and in-building environments. EE customers will enjoy the very best 4G and 5G network connectivity regardless of location, and we look forward to supporting this journey.”

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