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Virgin Media O2 UK to Expand 4G and 5G Small Cells Outside London

Thursday, June 30th, 2022 (9:57 am) - Score 3,672
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Broadband and mobile giant VMO2 (Virgin Media and O2) has revealed that they’ve deployed more than 1,300 live 4G and 5G capable Small Cell sites across London, which are often used to boost mobile coverage and capacity in high density urban areas (shopping malls etc.). The operator plans to expand this into other parts of the UK.

Unlike larger base stations and masts, shoe-box sized small cells are only designed to deliver limited coverage (VMO2’s kit has a range of 80-120 metres) and thus tend to be more focused on busy urban areas or specific sites, although they have sometimes also been used to boost coverage in the central areas of some rural communities.

PICTURED – TOP: Close-up view of a VMO2 Small Cell on top of a London Bus Shelter.

VMO2 has been investing in various related trials of the technology around London for years (supported by Cellnex UK, Freshwave, Ontix and the City of London), which they describe as being the “largest of any major operator“. The company see them as being an environmentally friendly way of boosting capacity and coverage, albeit at a lower cost and installed with minimal disruption (i.e. they can be completed within 6 weeks of the sites being acquired – thanks partly to less red tape).

Small cells like this are usually bolted to existing street furniture (lampposts, CCTV poles etc.), which also avoids the need to build new infrastructure. In some busier locations, around 20% of network traffic flows through such cells rather than the macro layer. At present, VMO2’s cells are using the 1800MHz spectrum band, with some initial trial locations also using 2.6GHz.

The most recent trial involved deploying 5G capable small cells within bus shelters with Freshwave (there are 10,000 such shelters in London alone), which are connected to backhaul capacity via optical fibre cables. The antenna on the rooftop has been built for multi-operator use, should there be demand in the future (wholesale). A similar trial is also taking place at various payphone sites across Westminster with Cellnex UK.

Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at VMO2, said:

“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. 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.”

The press release may make all of this sound new, but O2 had around 1,000 small cells deployed across London as far back as 2020. Small cells are, in general, also becoming increasingly common across the UK from multiple operators, and we’ve covered plenty of those deployments over the years (e.g. EE recently deployed 200 of them across various UK cities – here).

VMO2 now plans to deploy its small cell network “at scale” outside London, with a number of pilots in play across the UK, and is already working to deploy them to support the forthcoming 2022 Commonwealth Games this summer. The operator is also working closely with city planners to implement the cells as new buildings are erected, further reducing time and costs.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. kryten says:

    What would be the point to deploy 4G now ?

    1. Matt says:

      5G in the UK isn’t standalone and uses 4G for auth / upload generally.

      Also the places these are being deployed are massively oversubscribed, so capacity would be a problem if you didn’t.

    2. NE555 says:

      In addition, not every phone in use is 5G capable.

    3. Mark Jackson says:

      The latest cells may offer 4G, but they’re also 5G capable.

  2. Sam Morrow says:

    Can you consider o2 cells for Doagh village in Northern Ireland, the o2 signal is pathetic for everyone, have to rely on calls over wifi when at home, but outside nothing most times.

    1. Mark says:

      Desperately needed in parts of Plymouth, particularly around city centre and barbican where 02 4g is pathetic in comparison with any other network. 4g on 02 is virtually unusable there.

  3. Lesio Kowalski says:

    O2 4g in Plymouth is ongoing problem and sadly reported repeatedly over time( few years already) and o2 doesnt semm to care at all ….its shocking but subscreibers are treated as cash cows that need to pay for service regardless just to fill pockets a few individuals ( fat cats) that unfortunatly dont care about anyone bit their own pockets( executive directors).Its all sad but its thru.
    Shame on o2…..

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