Los Angeles Becomes First City To Test The Future Of Wireless Connectivity With 'Small Cells' On Streetlights


Say goodbye to big, bulky, unsightly cellphone towers. Say hello to the future of 4G networking.

Los Angeles publicly announced Thursday that it is outfitting 100 streetlights with a type of networking gear called small cells in an effort to start improving cell phone coverage.

Called SmartPoles, the streetlights are part of a collaboration between LED lighting giant Philips and telecom equipment giant Ericsson . The two European companies announced they were working together on a small cell product in 2014, and LA is the first city to rollout the technology.

Small cells are designed to improve network capacity in heavily populated areas that have high mobile data usage — and where data usage is only going to continue to skyrocket. These little boxes are being touted as the future of cellular networks. They’re cheaper to rollout than big cell towers and deliver faster connectivity.

Major US wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon have been talking about their rollout plans for small cells as a means to boost their network performance, but deployment has been slow at best. AT&T, for example, abandoned its goal of rolling out 40,000 small cells by the end of 2015, stating that its 2014 acquisition of Leap Wireless was enough to boost coverage. Still, the small cell market is expected to grow 43% annually through 2020, according to ABI Research.

Philips and Ericsson hope that SmartPoles make small cell deployment easier for the wireless carriers. Instead of going to individual landlords to try to convince them to install a box on their roof, carriers can rent space on these streetlights. And embedding small cells directly into city infrastructure will keep the visual clutter down — the small cell gear is fully concealed in the streetlight.

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