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O2 UK Extend 4G Mobile Small Cells to Birmingham’s Busiest Sites

Wednesday, Dec 20th, 2023 (12:03 pm) - Score 1,720

Mobile network operator O2 (VMO2) and IaaS provider Ontix have worked together to boost the provider’s 4G mobile (mobile broadband) capacity across the busiest parts of the UK’s second-largest city, which began after they started deploying their latest small cells into the area.

Just to recap. Shoebox sized small cells are like mini mobile base stations, which have been designed to deliver limited coverage (usually up to around 80-120 metres) and thus tend to be more focused on busy urban areas or specific sites. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find these sitting on top of lampposts, CCTV poles or old payphone cubicles (i.e. they can be more cost-effective than building new street assets or trying to secure wayleaves on buildings etc.), which is roughly what has happened in Birmingham too.

The first sites are now live in Bath Row and Islington Row, improving network capacity for the busy commuters arriving at the Five Ways station, which receives over 1 million visitors annually, and for the thousands who spend time at the markets and events in Edgbaston Village each year.

Paul Kells, VMO2’s Senior Director for Network Strategy & Engineering, said:

“With the largest small cell network of any major operator in the UK, we understand how effective they can be in boosting local network capacity in busy areas.

With upgrade programmes underway right across our network, we’re working hard to ensure our customers consistently receive an exceptional network experience wherever they are and even at the busiest times.”

More deployments are now being planned for the “coming months” in other key areas of the city centre, such as around Broad Street and the heart of the business quarter on Snow Hill Queensway. The work is being supported by Birmingham City Council and WM5G, who signed an Open Access Agreement with Ontix that gave them permission to deploy small cells onto assets from a base of over 90,000 streetlights throughout the city.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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24 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Ampfield Resident says:

    Was in Winchester last weekend. I am on Vodafone and wife is on O2. We both was unable to use data ALL DAY and when meeting up with friends at 5pm they had the same thing. Either there was a network outage on all networks or they are not designed for the demand.

    1. Avatar photo AD says:

      Vodafone and 02 have a mast sharing agreement, it’s most likely you were connected to a congested mast with insufficient backhaul.

    2. Avatar photo Matt says:

      @AD Even though they share masts via Cornerstone, they deploy their own seperate radio equipment and manage their own backhaul.

    3. Avatar photo Sonic says:

      Yup. The “network outage” you experienced has been around for 5-6 years now. It’s pathetic. We need new laws that can allow new mast installs without these nimbys getting in the way.

  2. Avatar photo Sam P says:

    I don’t quite understand this. I’ve been at city centre based events with over 3000 people around while still getting 300-500mbps on the typical nearby 5G tower that covers a few miles.

    Rather than use 4G small cells, why not just upgrade the main cells to 5G?

    1. Avatar photo O2 says:

      Because it depends on the use case. “5G” is not a fix for localised capacity issues.

      By the end of the next year we will have rolled out 5G SA and N78 to more sites anyhow.

    2. Avatar photo JP says:

      Hold you to that O2. :/

    3. Avatar photo Sam P says:

      5G fixed localised capacity issues on Three, EE and even Vodafone in some areas.

    4. Avatar photo JP says:

      Nowt wrong with the 5G coverage in Birmingham, not that you have a 5G device to know anyhow, so your lack of experience allows your opinion because?

    5. Avatar photo JP says:

      Damn, wrong comment….

  3. Avatar photo André says:

    Wouldn’t 5G-based small cells make more sense?
    Why deploy a soon-to-be obsolete technology?

    1. Avatar photo Mark Smith says:

      Because of cost/benefit.
      To deploy a 4G+5G non stand alone small cell is a relatively inexpensive affair and will deliver 150-300Mbs throughput at a latency of <30ms to end users connected to it. That is plenty for anyone. And it will remain ample for many years to come. How many users actually need or utilise anywhere near that sort of bandwidth?

      Whereas the costs of deploying a 5G standalone small cell and its associated core are an order of magnitude higher than the 4G/5G NSA cell. And yes it will deliver far lower latency and higher throughput of potentially several hundred Mbs, but so what when end users do not need or use anywhere near that.

      It is far better for network operators to focus on deploying consistent and reliable coverage and capacity over LTE than it is to deploy expensive 5G SA in a few localised places. That is what will improve quality of service and experience for users, not giving them ridiculous levels of eye catching dowbnload speeds here and there.

      There just aren’t any 5G SA use cases. In places like Seoul and Singapore where they went all out with 5G stand alone before anyone else and at huge cost of deployment, they are struggling to see the benefits realisation- Simply because no one needs anywhere near that level of bandwidth.

      Streaming a 4K video on a mobile device is probably the most demanding use case for most people and that doesn’t need more than 25Mbs download speeds

    2. Avatar photo Phil says:

      @Mark Smith “they are struggling to see the benefits realisation” Essentially no one needs 5G then, as 4G is just as capable. I’ve yet to connect to any 5G that gave me speeds that much faster than 4G. Also in any area that the 4G signal is low with pretty much unusable throughput, 5G doesn’t help improve anything as it needs 4G anyway. It is really hard to see what benefits 5G provides that wouldn’t have been achievable just using the extra spectrum for 4G, except for planned obsolescence and getting people brainwashed into believing they need the next higher up ‘version’ number, which is what it was all about.

      At least 5G standalone would bring reduced latency and perhaps open up other uses, that’s what they were selling 5G as originally, and it could be introduced to areas with no 4G and improve coverage.

      As it stands in a few years time they will be pushing standalone 5G as 5.5G and calling it the next best thing, with existing phones not updated to be compatible requiring more upgrades.

    3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Still a lot of phones out there that don’t have 5G, and it could be like that for a fair few years. Plenty of phones still sold that don’t have 5G, some people just need a cheap phone that does the job. My phone is around 4 years old, no 5G and unless it goes belly up, I have no intention of replacing it. Not that I live in Birmingham and 5G here is awful anyway.

      Also, as Mark said, it comes down to cost.

    4. Avatar photo JP says:

      Nowt wrong with the 5G coverage in Birmingham, not that you have a 5G device to know anyhow, so your lack of experience allows your opinion because?

  4. Avatar photo JP says:

    Will go out hunting for these in the summer, I guess keep an eye on X for the results… @jitterypinger

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Oh dear, that is sad, and being on X is even sadder.

    2. Avatar photo JP says:

      Shhhh troll.

  5. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

    After much badgering O2 supplied me with an ‘open’ 4G femtocell that I installed in my loft and is now serving our small hamlet of 7 houses. Quite why more use of this simple technology isn’t being made to fix isolated rural not-spots I don’t understand.

    1. Avatar photo Chris says:

      I thought they got rid of the old ‘boostboxes’ ?

    2. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Relying on femtocells to plug gaps in coverage doesn’t seem wise. The cells are usually intended to serve the property they are in not the neighbours.

      Having folks calling the mobile company to complain about things not working because someone’s broadband has gone down or they needed the plug socket isn’t really viable.

    3. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

      Nope, still alive and well, most of them are 3G and ‘closed’ so only registered users can access them, but the one they supplied me is ‘open’ and dual band (3G & 4G) although I guess the 3G will be switched off at some point. Mine has UPS power and dual WAN feeding it, so not likely to go down easily. Yes it would be nice if the networks fixed the not spots, but I can’t see it happening where I live, so what else do we do? None of our local cell sites have backup power anyway, so my tiny cell here is probably more reliable than the network ones..

  6. Avatar photo Tim Dim says:

    How did you get it @guycashmore?

    There’s parts of Birmingham where o2 and Three have no data signal. Vodafone too.

Comments are closed

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