Telstra completes small cell rollout in Melbourne

Telstra has increased its 4G network coverage across Melbourne's CBD via the installation of 50 small cells as part of the 1,000 sites that will be deployed over the next three years in preparation for 5G.

Telstra has announced the deployment of more than 50 small cell sites across Melbourne's CBD, which it said is the first phase in a national program to increase LTE capacity and speeds in high mobile network traffic areas.

Melbourne's new Telstra small cell mobile base stations extend across all directions in the inner-city area between Flinders Street, Spring Street, Spencer Street, and La Trobe Street, and have been installed on power poles, street lights, and information hubs at main intersections.

The small cells that will see the highest mobile network traffic, according to Australia's incumbent telecommunications provider, are those at the intersections of Flinders Street and St Kilda Road, Spencer Street and Collins Street, and Spencer Street and Bourke Street.

"Traffic carried on these cells is between two and three times the average CBD small cell traffic," Telstra said.

Telstra ED of Network and Infrastructure Engineering Channa Seneviratne said that by mid-2018, Telstra will activate such LTE-Advanced features as Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) across its 4G mobile network in Melbourne in order to create a Heterogeneous Network (HetNet).

"We have been using small cells to extend coverage mostly in rural and remote areas for several years; now we are deploying them in some of the busiest locations in Australia as a cost-effective way to handle the ever-growing demand for data," Seneviratne said.

As part of its preparation for 5G networks, Telstra last month said it would be installing 1,000 small cells over the next three years throughout metro and regional areas across the country, with a focus on major cities including Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Perth.

Telstra used Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 in Barcelona to unveil its 5G rollout plan last month, with the carrier to provide 5G technology to major cities and several regional areas by the end of 2019.

According to Telstra's 5G networks roadmap, in addition to the 1,000 small cells, 2018 will see 4G and 5G integration and interoperability trials with Ericsson, Intel, and Qualcomm; the rollout of 2Gbps 4G to "high traffic locations" to increase speeds; participation in the 3GPP meeting in the Gold Coast in September; and trials with vendors and partners at its 5G Innovation Centre in the Gold Coast.

"5G will be a critical building block in economic competitiveness for the nation, so we are planning our network rollout to give as many customers as possible access to 5G technology as soon as possible," Telstra COO Robyn Denholm said in February.

"We are already working with vendors like Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Intel today to develop the end-to-end 5G ecosystem. At the same time, we are pushing the boundaries of 4G so we can continue to offer Australia's largest and fastest mobile network and prepare for the 4G and 5G technology layers to integrate in future."

Telstra had last week also announced the beginning of network tests in Weldborough, Tasmania, to mount a small cell on a TasNetworks electricity pole to expand 4G coverage and speeds.

If the tests succeed, the telco provider said it will use TasNetworks infrastructure throughout West Hobart, Adventure Bay, Tunnack, Pyengana, and Forcett for its small cells rollout, in addition to the 17 small cell locations it has across the state in areas including Taroona, Glendevie, Rocky Cape, Judbury, St Marys, Lebrina, and Lake Barrington.

"The construction of a mobile base station typically costs several hundreds of thousands of dollars, but can easily run up to AU$1 million plus in some regional and remote areas due to distance and terrain," Telstra CEO Andy Penn said at the time.

"A small cell may allow us to deliver mobile coverage and capacity to smaller communities and areas where the construction of a mobile base station would otherwise be uneconomical."

Penn had last month told ZDNet that Telstra is aiming to have a fully integrated 5G network when it launches next year, which will involve the continual upgrade of its current 4G LTE network technology, speeds, and capacity in order to be a global leader.

"We're always a leader, and we have the best network. We've always been a leader in technology and will continue to be so," Penn told ZDNet.

"It's one thing to just sort of put a flag in the ground, but what's more important is we have an integrated set of 5G solutions for customers, and also we will continue to invest in and develop the capability of 4G as well.

"Because ultimately, whilst 5G might be available commercially in 2019, realistically not everybody is going to suddenly switch to 5G; there will still be many customers on 4G as there are indeed on 3G today."

Telstra, which added voice services to small cells last May, is also rolling out 135 small cells across regional Australia as part of the federal government's mobile blackspot program.

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