Some Virgin Media O2 customers are set for welcome mobile coverage boost

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Virgin Media O2 is accelerating its rollout of small cells in London, deploying 1,300 units across the capital to boost the signal quality of its 4G and 5G networks.

While the vast majority of mobile coverage is provided using macroinfrastructure such as conventional phone masts, building a base station in an urban location can be challenging due to a lack of space.

Microinfrastructure such as small cells coupled with high-band spectrum help improve capacity in congested areas, while also improving indoor coverage.

Virgin Media O2 small cells

What’s more, in order to achieve the capacity, low-latency and reliability that the most revolutionary of 5G applications will require, operators will have to densify their networks with greater numbers of access points.

Virgin Media O2’s small cells have a range of 80-120 metres and are installed with minimum disruption. The small cells are small enough to be attached to existing street furniture like lampposts and can be installed within six weeks without the need for complex planning process, meaning they are an effective of way of improving networks with minimal disruption.

Early data suggests these small cells can handle around a fifth of all traffic in busy locations, easing pressure on the wider macro network.

The company says it is the first to create a framework to install small cells on bus shelters, adding that the antennas have been built for multi-operator use, should the demand arise.                  

Virgin Media O2 says its rollout shows the potential for a scaled deployment in other parts of the country, and is already working to deploy small cells in Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games this summer.

“Building a 5G network is a complex job, so we are constantly looking at ways to create efficiencies via collaboration with partners that will ultimately benefit our customers,” said Virgin Media CTO Jeanie York. “Technologies such as small cells help us increase network bandwidth, which allows us to keep up with customer demand, with data traffic levels increasing 34% year on year.

“Our Radio Network Engineering team have done a fantastic job to develop our small cell delivery programme. I’m excited to see where this will take us as we look to roll out at scale to provide a more sustainable solution that still provides fast and reliable connectivity for our customers as we upgrade the UK.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.