Connectivity is vital and transformative, but that does not mean it’s available everywhere that it should be. Especially in crowded cities, it has become increasingly difficult to use traditional solutions like cell towers to offer connectivity. What used to be hundreds of devices searching for signal in a neighborhood now easily numbers in the thousands.
Imagine a busy street in a shopping area at lunchtime, or even a subway station at 8:30 am. While these packed areas generally have coverage, telecommunications networks often do not have the capacity to manage the demand for data. If you then add factors like licensing restrictions, availability of viable sites, urban planning rules, or economic feasibility, the picture becomes even more complex.
Without innovative infrastructure solutions, these regions may not get the connectivity they deserve. In other words, you could have five bars of 5G signal but not be able to send a text or make a phone call.
By 2023, the US will have:
“Being online” has become a constant in people's everyday lives. We already produce on average 44 trillion gigabytes of data per year, a tenfold increase since 2013. With this quantity of data, you could make a stack of 128 GB iPads and reach two-thirds the distance to the moon. And that number continues to grow exponentially. Since the COVID-19 lockdowns began, Internet traffic has increased 40%: 1 year of growth in 1 quarter.
What options are there to ensure that people can connect to what really matters? Clearly, traditional cell towers cannot work in every situation where we need strong cellular signal. When you’re “on the go” in a crowded square and need to take an important call, you need another layer of connectivity to ensure that call goes through.
In the end, we need infrastructure solutions that are more flexible and adaptable to the urban environment. The key is to utilize low-height wireless systems, which we term Street Level Solutions (SLS), that leverage urban street furniture to improve wireless signal.
More buildings and structures lead to more physical barriers that impede a mobile signal as it tries to reach devices. These obstacles to line of sight may compromise connectivity. Oftentimes, it is not possible to build or expand the traditional footprint of large towers to address this problem. Not to mention zoning limitations that prohibit normal towers from being installed.
Urban agglomerations are not alone in their explosive growth. Suburban and rural municipalities have expanded as well, and so have their connectivity needs. They all have experienced the digital revolution.
In rural areas, for instance, the agriculture sector has reinvented itself to improve efficiency and drive better product yields through technology. Faster production, with less waste and lower costs, is increasingly tied to and driven by strong connectivity.
As is the case in large urban centers, new telecommunications infrastructure also faces challenges in suburban and rural areas. Environmental, architectural, and economic considerations can all limit options and users’ ability to stay connected.
10 to 15% of American farmers use IoT technologies on the farm
There were approximately 75 million IoT devices in the US in 2020, and adoption is forecast to grow at 20% annually.
Source: Alpha Brown
When a user tries to browse but cannot download data, despite having “four bars” or a network connection, it normally means that there are presently more mobile connections than the network can support. The network has become overloaded and cannot serve everyone. This is a network capacity problem.
Let’s pretend for a moment that cellular signal is like a busy avenue. Every day, hundreds of cars drive on the avenue, but there is a limit to how many cars can be on the avenue at any given time. One way to solve this problem would be to expand the number of lanes available; akin to, for instance, to building more towers. But imagine that there is no more space that a city can utilize to expand the lanes. The same can happen with cellular carriers and macro towers.
In this case, another solution would be to increase the number of streets surrounding the busy avenue, providing cars with an alternative means to reach their destination (with a little help from Waze) while reducing the overall number of cars on the avenue. That is how SLS works. It provides alternate routes for the data traffic to reach its final destination.
When cellular signal simply doesn't reach users, the reason is generally due to large numbers of solid barriers, such as the walls of buildings in urban centers or dense tree coverage. It may also be the result of long distances to the nearest network coverage. In these situations, it is possible that the carriers could not deploy infrastructure closer to the area lacking coverage because of architectural limitations, licensing or environmental considerations. Often the topography itself (e.g., mountainous, uphill, downhill) can negatively impact signal propagation.
SLS consists of connecting the operator's current network to propagation points closest to the user. This solves the capacity and / or coverage problems discussed above, in addition to ensuring that the transmission component is also resolved.
The traditional Central Beach fireworks display in Balneário Camboriú attracts tourists from around the world for Brazil’s second largest New Year’s Eve party. The New Year’s Eve countdown featured more than 1 million people celebrating on the shore, and one of the biggest improvements was guaranteeing that cell signal worked for all of these tourists, allowing them to wish “Happy New Year” to all of their family and friends through mobile connectivity.