Optimising Rural Mobile Coverage For Local Businesses

Distributed Antenna Systems

The British Department of Culture, Media and Sport recently announced that it is providing £150 million in funding to improve mobile coverage in rural areas. Providing wireless service in rural areas can be challenging, however with the 4G rollout local businesses are putting even more pressure on operators to improve service.

Indeed, a recent survey has found that 80 percent of businesses in the South East suffer disruption from mobile phone ‘not spots’, which will only be worse in more remote locations.

Mobile Challenges

Rural areas are often large and thinly populated. The challenge is to get the right amount of mobile network capacity to each user as cost-effectively as possible. Traditional tower cell sites may not always be the best solution because of cost, resident response to the tower being visually obtrusive, as well as the fact they are often overkill for the capacity needed.

While local businesses fully support the improvement of wireless in rural areas, there is also a growing responsibility to protect the area and prevent any damage to the local countryside, towns and villages. There may be objection to the presence of tall, ugly towers in the centre of town, while mobile operators will also want a more cost-appropriate solution for a smaller number of subscribers.

In rural areas, operators need to be strategic about where they place coverage to make sure the mobile coverage is placed where the users are as they live, work and move: along roadsides, in smaller communities, and in populated open spaces like historical sites or nature preserves.

Another challenge with tall towers is the time it takes to deploy them. Obtaining town council approvals and building a 100-metre tower can take months, during which time subscribers and local businesses suffer with poor or no coverage.

Distributed Antenna Systems

Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are an alternative way to distribute mobile signals over a given area. An outdoor DAS provides focused coverage and capacity with easily deployable units that can support multiple frequencies and wireless services.

DAS remote units are much smaller than cell towers (typically no more than a cubic metre) and can be placed on utility poles, inside street fixtures, on buildings or even underground. A DAS also supports network sharing, reducing the total cost of ownership for wireless operators and minimising the amount of equipment the community sees.

What is great about DAS is that because the antennas are closer to potential users, they provide a superior signal to those customers and local businesses, free from interference and fade that can be experienced from towers located a mile or more away. And the same DAS system serving an outdoor area (along roadways or in residential communities), can also expand to provide indoor voice, video and data for businesses in the area.

In order to improve mobile coverage for local users and businesses, as well as minimise grievances, operators need to readdress their existing infrastructure and deploy small cell architecture, like DAS. By using building or pole-mounted antennas, not only are aesthetic concerns effectively solved, but operators are able to distribute signal to exactly where it’s needed – thus ensuring all businesses can enjoy the benefits good mobile coverage has to offer, regardless of where it’s located.

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Tony LeFebvre

Since joining TE Connectivity, Tony Lefebvre has held a variety of business development and product management positions including programme manager for Distributed Antenna System (DAS) products, senior manager for IP Cable products, and director of product management for outdoor wireless products. In his current position he is responsible for product development initiatives for TE’s outdoor wireless products and the business expansion into global markets. Tony holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management, and an MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, MN.