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Industry News

Weak Signals Do Not Work for Data

September 9, 2008
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In-Stat reports that cellular infrastructure is usually not one of the most exciting topics to discuss in wireless, but that has started to change. As wireless operators have begun to deploy 3G and other wireless broadband technology, they have discovered that the grid of cell towers that worked fine for voice are not an ideal solution for data.

The reasons are numerous and complex, but the top reasons are the higher frequencies which most wireless broadband technologies are using and which do not penetrate buildings as well as the lower frequencies, and the higher signal to noise requirements these technologies have if subscribers are to get data speeds anywhere near those advertised by operators.


A voice call that is suffering from a poor signal will usually stay connected until the signal is so bad that the call is dropped. The user might not get an indication that the signal is waning until the end when the caller’s voice starts to break up and the inevitable drop call occurs. With a wireless data connection, a weak or noisy signal results in a slower data connection.

As long as a voice call stays connected, the voice user feels like he or she is getting his money’s worth, but the data user who is getting a 50 Kbps data rate instead of the advertised 1.5 Mbps may not be very happy and his impression will be that his service is not living up to that advertised.

Operators are aware of this problem, but getting a strong signal everywhere is much easier talked about than accomplished. In 2007, wireless operators worldwide spent on average $74 US on total infrastructure costs per cellular customer.

Micro and picocell base stations can get the signal closer to the user and will be used more in the future, but while the base stations themselves are much cheaper than a macro base station, their capacity and coverage are much less. Still, operators may not have a choice once wireless data use becomes much more widespread. Another option that the operators can take advantage of is femtocells. These devices, installed in a home by the subscriber, can support three or four simultaneous subscribers, while the subscriber foots most of the backhaul costs, an operator’s dream.

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