THE BLOG

We Need to Think Small to Meet Insatiable Demand for Data

15/04/2014 12:30 BST | Updated 14/06/2014 10:59 BST

Our need for mobile data has exploded over the last few years and it doesn't look like there's an end to this in sight. Smartphones have been with us for less than 10 years but have become an indispensable gadget for most of us. For many, life without mobile connectivity feels unthinkable. But you don't have to have a degree in computer science to understand that this places mobile networks under a lot of strain - especially in urban areas where millions of people rely on the same infrastructure. Our insatiable hunger for mobile data means we're rapidly approaching a capacity cliff.

We all want and expect to be able to download movies in seconds, video chat instead of doing phone calls and use multimedia messages as the new messaging standard. This is far from impossible to achieve. We have a network capable of it - the question is how to make sure everyone has access when they need it.

Mobile network operators are working hard to build extra capacity. Networks have to evolve the same way our gadgets do and one way forward in avoiding the capacity cliff are small cell networks.

Small cell networks are created by shoebox-sized devices that sit on lamp posts or CCTV units. These are linked together into 'meshes' of cells which are then plugged into our fibre network running directly under your feet. These networks increase the available capacity where it's needed most, in high footfall city centres and means that you and I can experience 3G and 4G as it's meant to be.

We've already started testing this technology, running trials in some UK cities such as Leeds to see how we can best make these networks a reality. Later this year we'll also be looking at how small cell networks can be integrated into the overall mobile networks to unleash their full power.

Even if people in the industry rightfully get excited about the potential of small cells, a lot of testing still needs to be done before this technology is ready for launch. But we're excited to take the next steps. It's not impossible to avoid the capacity cliff and we, as an industry, are on track to have small cells ready for action to do just that.

The UK has the largest digital economy in the G20 and we need fresh ideas and innovation to stay ahead and support our economic recovery. However, ideas alone will not be enough to sustain this powerful competitive advantage. We need to be able to turn new concepts into practical, cost-effective and usable technologies to realise the full benefits of innovation.