Woodland Court and Quads Block D have had small cell units installed into a number of our Cisco Wi-Fi access-points (APs) - the aim of this is to improve mobile telephone coverage for people in these buildings. We are piloting the use of small cell technology in a University setting with Cisco. These small cells are low-powered mobile radio access points that propagate the EE mobile phone frequencies locally and have a range of a just a few meters. They are small compared to a mobile "macrocell" or base station which may have a range of a few tens of kilometres.
Unlike Wi-Fi, these devices use the licensed mobile phone radio spectrum so must be operated and controlled by a specific mobile phone company. The service will work with only one mobile phone operator (EE) at the moment.
All buildings weaken mobile phone (and other) signals. Metal, glass, concrete and numerous other modern materials are notoriously difficult for mobile signals to penetrate. Mobile operators are using different technology solutions to overcome this problem.
The solution we are piloting
This technology has been used in residential settings for years. When in range of the small cell, a mobile phone will automatically detect it and use it in preference to the larger macrocell base stations which could be many kilometers away. Calls are made and received in exactly the same way as before, except that the signals are sent encrypted from the small cell via the University's campus IP network, over JANET and then across the global Internet to one of the mobile operators main switching centres. Making and receiving calls uses the same processes and telephone numbers, and all the standard features (call divert, text messaging, web browsing etc) are available in the same way.
Small cells operate at very low radio power levels - less than cordless phones, WiFi or some other household equipment. This substantially increases the battery life for any mobile devices making use of them. Since they are so much closer to the handset or mobile device, call quality is excellent and data devices can often operate at full speed.
Being part of this pilot will mean we can assess if this is a good solution for our students and staff in a University setting.