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Telstra to combat congestion with small cell networks

Telstra is moving to combat congestion on its mobile network in city areas through the trial of small cell networks known as heterogeneous networks.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Telstra is moving to combat increasing congestion on its mobile network in metropolitan Australia by testing out small cell, or heterogeneous networks (HetNets).

HetNets bring in smaller cells, such as femto or picocells, into a mobile network allowing a mobile telecommunications provider to reduce capacity issues by having more cells in total, meaning fewer users per cell.

Telstra announced this morning that the trial would see small cell networks installed in busy city locations or sporting stadiums where congestion is high as it is difficult to build additional large scale base stations.

Telstra's director of networks Mike Wright told journalists this morning that the company will be working with network vendor giant Ericsson to trial and then roll out HetNets in Australia's capital cities.

"We will be rolling it out as it makes sense to manage demand for our customers," he said.

The focus would be on 4G, but Wright said that the company would continue to invest in its 3G network and would install HetNets for 3G where it made sense.

Telstra is seeing traffic grow on its 4G network at a rate of 20 percent per month, while 3G traffic growth is much slower. The company's focus is to get more existing customers off the 3G network and onto the 4G network. As of the end of last year, Telstra had sold 1.5 million 4G devices and has over 14 million mobile customers in total.

In addition to HetNets, Telstra will also roll out long term evolution (LTE) networks in a 5MHz slice of the 900MHz spectrum, which it had been trialling since last year, for use in regional areas.

"We've got some sites up and running, and they're performing the way we expect," Wright said.

"We will leverage our LTE use in 900MHz where it makes sense to provide range and depth of coverage."

The company has some sites up and running in North Brisbane, and Wright said it would be likely that the network would be rolled out in regional areas like Kalgoorlie or Alice Springs.

There is only one 900MHz device in the market today, the Nokia Lumia 920, and Telstra said that compatible BlackBerry and Sony devices would be available later this year. The company would also implement a software upgrade to the Sierra Wireless 4G mobile broadband device by the middle of the year to ensure 900MHz compatibility.

Telstra said that it was also trialling LTE-Advanced, which combines the 1800MHz and 900MHz spectrum bands, with a view to roll it out for consumer use later this year.

Wright said that the LTE-A trial would allow Telstra to group together spectrum from different bands to get a more efficient channel that is able to cover greater distances in the lower band, but have higher capacity in the higher band.

Telstra would also trial LTE-Broadcast, which delivers identical content from multiple cell towers, and would allow Telstra to deliver 4G video broadcast capability.

"LTE-B is about the fact that we're going to see an increase in that video load, so in a lot of ways, mobile networks are going to have to be broadcast networks," Telstra's chief operations officer Brendon Riley said.

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