Vodafone builds new small cell thanks to popstar and heavy traffic

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Vodafone has started trialling a new open-access small cell that backhauls over LTE in Spain and Turkey after gaining inspiration from an Italian popstar and traffic jams.

Dubbed CrowdCell, the operator said the product, which is patent pending and won an award for Commercial Small Cell Backhaul Design and Technology at this year's Small Cell Forum Awards, overcomes some of the traditional obstacles faced by small cell deployment.

Antonio Oliver, New Technologies & Innovation Manager, Vodafone Group’s Networks Centre of Excellence, explained: "The use of traditional small cells presents two challenges: firstly, small cells need to connect to a dedicated communications network, such as DSL, microwave links or fibre, to link back (backhaul) to the operator’s core network; in addition, the rental costs of sites where small cells can be located (such as lampposts and bus stops) can be prohibitive."

A CrowdCell, which has been built by Huawei, includes an embedded SIM and backhauls over Vodafone's macro LTE network, which the operator said means can be rolled out quickly and cost effectively.

The product is being tested indoors by Vodafone opcos in Spain and Turkey in areas the operator has identified as needing greater coverage.

[Read more: Vodafone launches NEC small cell-powered enterprise offering in the Netherlands]

Vodafone said while the technology is similar to a repeater, the CrowdCell does not experience its traditional problems with interference. The operator said a controller would harmonise all CrowdCells within an area to boost customer experience.

Oliver added: "We also see the potential to use CrowdCells far more flexibly than traditional cell sites. With a customer’s permission, a CrowdCell could be placed into cars, drones or even into smartphones, making it much easier for Vodafone to deliver the best service where and when our customers need it."

The origins of the product came from two network engineers. One began brainstorming if cars stuck in a queue could temporarily boost mobile coverage while he was sat in a traffic jam. The other attended a concert by Italian popstar Laura Pausini but started wondering if there could be new ways of reducing network interference when large numbers of people get together.