Ericsson trials HetNet-friendly ‘City Site’: Would you like ads with your base station?

As cities get more populated and data usage increases, cracks start to show in traditional mobile network layouts – they just can’t handle the load. Many see the solution in so-called heterogeneous networks, or HetNets, which involve a range of different cell types rather than simply relying on the macro-cells we know and love (or loathe, depending whose skyline they’re ruining).

Ericsson(s eric) is a keen HetNet proponent and the Swedish networking giant has just launched a commercial trial of what it calls the City Site “integrated solution” in Nanning, the capital of China’s Guangxi region, alongside China Mobile. The four-meter-high (13-foot) package includes a standard Ericsson base station in this case, along with an integrated multidirectional antenna.

The “Omni Antenna” in question is rather short-range (up to a couple of hundred meters) and relatively close to the ground, which fits in nicely with what Ericsson is trying to achieve here: network densification, a central tenet of HetNet architecture.

HetNets will need to involve not only a variety of cell sizes and types – from macro-cells to pico-cells to Wi-Fi offload points — but also cells at different levels and layers, in order to solve the challenges presented by specific locations. Tall buildings are a challenge when you’re trying to serve thousands of people on street-level, and this kind of thing may be part of the solution.

But densification isn’t the only thing that’s going on here. Ericsson’s City Site design also allows add-on modules for video ad screens, clocks, touchscreen real-time information displays and so on. The company told me this could “provide high performance broadband coverage together with fulfilling a city’s needs for de-clutter, aesthetics and add-on applications like information or advertising.”

This is a good indicator of how we can expect to see our ever-increasing mobile broadband requirements change the cityscapes around us. I’m not sure it really amounts to de-cluttering, though — ads aside, there’s something to be said for discreetly sticking cells on lampposts and other existing street furniture.