Small cells are like DRUNKS. They don't use lamp posts for light, they use 'em for support

Brit designer's dangle-comms produce coverage for all

A new design of mobile cell site that sits on top of an existing street light has been developed British design company The Technology Partnership (TTP).

Street lights are an obvious place to put mobile network infrastructure. They're erected in the places where there are lots of people and they have a power supply.

While Ericsson has a whole street light division, formulated in conjunction with Philips, the TTP solution is a bit more softly-softly.

Like some kind of electronic mistletoe the unnamed TTP cell sits on top of existing street lights. The installer unplugs the photocell from the standard socket, plugs the cell in and then plugs the photocell back into the TTP unit.

The process is designed to require the minimum amount of work while producing coverage for the network and revenue for the street light owners. The compact design meets de minimis planning requirements, and so also simplifies official consents.

It is targeted at 50 metre cells, supporting up to 32 active users at downlink rates of up to 100Mbps, although the elephant in the room is backhaul.

It’s all very well being able to get the mobile signal to the eNodeB on the street light but getting the voice or data from the lights to the phone network is a tougher problem.

TTP kind of employs a SEP (somebody else’s problem) field solution to this, but offers a partial answer in the form of an a Gigabit interface for S1/X2 and provides Power Over Ethernet out, so that whatever is plugged in as backhaul can be connected with a single cable, and so with no need for any co-operation from the owner of the street light.

One common solution is LTE backhaul, where part of the operator’s 4G spectrum is used to link the lights to one another and then on to a switch. This is similar to the approach adopted by EE in its Cumbrian experiment.

However, TTP’s Steve Baker prefers a point to multi-point microwave approach, as he thinks all the LTE spectrum should be for customers. He was happy to tell El Reg that as far as he's concerned, LTE backhaul is “like a hamster eating its own babies”.

An analogy made more powerful by your correspondent’s memories of watching Baker rescuing some ducklings by sticking his arm into a drain to retrieve them.

The TTP cell isn’t a shipping product. It’s a design the company is looking to sell to infrastructure manufacturers who will have a relationship with mobile networks, and has announced the device ahead of Mobile World Congress hoping that interested people will go and look at it during the show.

Because it uses a Freescale BSC9131 QorIQ Qonverge processor it will be on the Freescale stand. It incorporates LTE Access Point software from ip.access, and has been demonstrated with the Quortus EPX Core evolved packet core.

“There has been a lot of focus on the unit cost of small cells, but less attention has been paid to total cost of deployment,” said Baker. “The costs of site acquisition, planning consents and installation become significant factors when tens or even hundreds of thousands of small cells are considered. The TTP outdoor lamp post cell addresses these challenges head-on.”

It’s said that drunks use lamp posts for support rather than illumination. Maybe there'll be an increasing tendency for telcos to use street lights not for illumination but communication. ®

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