The typical transmitters used by mobile carriers are built to cover large areas, but in turn are expensive and require lots of space. “Small cells” are the exact opposite. They are small transmitters that only cover a radius of 250 to 500 feet, but the trade off is that they are cheaper to build and maintain, and their size means they can be installed in places and remain inconspicuous. In the coming months, Verizon will be installing 400 of these small cells in San Francisco in order to improve its 4G network speeds.
Verizon says the units will be installed in specific neighborhoods where data usage is the highest. These areas include Market Street, SOMA, the Financial District, and North Beach. The cells are described as being around the size of a small space heater, and the plan is to attach them to utility poles and street lights.
The plan is for all 400 small cells to be up and running by the end of the year, which Verizon says will result in network speeds three times faster than they are now in the specified locations. Verizon isn’t the first carrier to make use of such technology, as AT&T is in the process of installing over 40,000 across the country, but the focus on the tech hub of San Francisco is interesting. Verizon VP Eric Reed describes the city’s use of mobile data as “like few other places in the country.”
Verizon is also using small cells in the cities of New York, Phoenix, and Chicago. But again, San Francisco is a special focus, with the city hosting Super Bowl 50 next February, and the carrier expecting the event to bring several million additional data users.