Alcatel-Lucent helps mobile operators find cell sites to improve network coverage

Alcatel-Lucent has teamed up with site owners to build a database of locations where network operators can install small cells

Mobile operators looking for somewhere to place small base stations to improve network performance in metropolitan areas can now turn to Alcatel-Lucent, which has set up a clearing house for information about available sites.

Network operators can boost the coverage and capacity of 3G and 4G networks in metropolitan areas by adding more, smaller base stations -- but it can be difficult for them to find sites for the new equipment. Obstacles include finding appropriate sites, obtaining zoning or construction permits, and connecting them to the rest of their LTE or 3G network.

Alcatel-Lucent is working with companies that own suitable sites, including Crown Castle and EdgeConneX, to build a database describing the locations and the availability of back-haul network connections.

Partners in the Metro Cell Express Site Certification Program also include unnamed outdoor advertising companies and cable operators, Alcatel-Lucent said.

"This isn't going to solve every problem for an operator, but it gives us a way forward to accelerate the deployments of small cells," said Mike Schabel, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent's Small Cells Business.

Getting zoning clearances for small cells has also been a problem for mobile operators. To side-step that process Alcatel-Lucent has, for example, worked with street-side advertising companies to integrate the small cell hardware within their street furniture enclosures, according to Schabel.

About half of the initial 600,000 sites in Alcatel-Lucent's database are in the U.S., and half in Europe. In theory, more than one network can use each site, so an operator could either secure exclusive rights to prime sites, or share the cost of common assets with others. It's a financial and network differentiation question more so than a technical one, Schabel said.

"Europe will really get moving in the metro cell market in 2014, and we'll see continued growth in South America, the U.S. and China," Schabel said.

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