Sunday, 28 April 2019

Altaeros’ Autonomous Tethered Aerial Cell Tower, SuperTower ST200

Couple of months back, Altaeros announced "world’s first commercial aerial cell tower". This is a contentious point as the UK MNO, EE has already claimed "World’s first commercial use of Helikite ‘air mast’ technology showcased with 360° live stream over 4G" back in 2017. While we can argue that EE's aerostat was a Helikite while this is something different, they are both aerial cell towers.

Their press release says:

The SuperTower uses a proven aerostat platform, combined with innovative automation and control software, to deploy radios and antennas over four times higher than traditional cell towers allowing carriers to efficiently cover substantially more area than traditional towers. The ST200 was tested with six high capacity Ericsson 4G LTE radios and three highgain Matsing lens antennas. During initial testing users were able to stream high-definition video at distances well beyond the reach of a typical cell site, even in the hills and forests of New England. Altaeros is initially deploying SuperTowers in partnership with carriers in the US, with plans to quickly expand internationally.

The website specifiesThe Altaeros SuperTower is designed to meet this challenge. Each SuperTower deploys radios and antennas over 800 feet above ground level. Greater height and flexibility mean a single SuperTower replaces fifteen regular cell towers at 60% lower cost, shifting the rural networks from a loss-making endeavor to a growth engine for carriers.

Mobile World Live provides some more details about it's trials:

Ben Glass, CEO and CTO of the company, told Mobile World Live (MWL) the company is testing the system with “some of the big carriers that are household names”, with a view to deploying it in the latter part of 2019 and early 2020.

The executive did not confirm which operators are testing the technology. However, applications filed with the Federal Communications Commission show it conducted FDD-LTE tests in PCS spectrum and more recently trialled TD-LTE at 2.5GHz.

A Sprint representative told MWL it allowed Altaeros to use some of its 2.5GHz spectrum for the latter testing, but did not confirm whether it is evaluating the technology for itself.

Verizon flat denied it is involved: AT&T and T-Mobile US had not responded at the time of publishing.

Here is their video providing more details:


The website specifies potential applications for Altaeros’ technology include:

  • Cellular Networks
  • Industrial/Agricultural IOT
  • Fixed Wireless
  • Environmental Monitoring and Agribusiness
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Public Safety

Couple of important points from the FAQ's

What if a tether breaks loose?

The Altaeros SuperTower has three load-bearing tethers. If one of the tethers breaks loose, the remaining tethers will reel in the shell. In the very unlikely scenario that all three tethers break loose, an automatic vent will begin to release helium to allow the SuperTower to slowly descend to the ground. Similar safety features have been reliably demonstrated on hundreds of existing aerostats.

How fast can the SuperTower be deployed?

Once on site, the Altaeros SuperTower can be inflated and deployed in a few days. Our system does not require a crane or cement foundation for its installation.

In disaster recovery kinds of use case, air masts like these may need to be deployed for a few days to weeks. It is essential that they can reach their destination quickly. Having reached their destination, they also need to be deployed in a few hours. On the other hand there are many other scenarios where these kinds of air masts, as long as they can stay up for months, be useful for something or other. We look forward to hearing more about them in future.

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Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Vodafone UK improving coverage with Phone Boxes, Mini-masts & Manhole Covers


Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone UK wrote a post about how 'our cunningly imaginative network team has devised some ingenious ways of boosting mobile reception.' While readers of this blog will have already seen most of these innovations from around the world on our blog, it's nevertheless an important step to bring connectivity to users in rural and remote areas that suffer digital exclusion.

Late last year, Vodafone talked about how their mini masts (picture on top) are making huge differences to JCB Staffordshire quarries. Around half the height of a standard mast, the mini masts can be painted to fit in with the local surroundings. The masts also require less power and electronic equipment.  This means they are ideally suited to providing a mobile signal in hard-to-reach rural business locations, such as the two JCB sites, near its World Headquarters. The mini mast is developed in partnership with infrastructure technology company Commscope according to the PR.

Continuing from the original PR:


4G networks can easily become congested in densely populated cities. This is especially true for urban areas regularly visited by waves of tourists, such as London’s Covent Garden. Fitting a mini-mast to the underside of a manhole cover to increase mobile coverage may sound bizarre, but it makes perfect sense. Our incredibly fast fibre optic network runs beneath the streets of Covent Garden and provides the bandwidth muscle behind our manhole cover mini-masts. Each mini-mast isn’t designed to boost coverage for all of London or even the West End, but for specific stretches of Covent Garden where overwhelming demand for a strong and stable 4G signal would otherwise go unmet.

But manhole cover mini-masts won’t be appropriate or possible in every locality. For some places, such as Edinburgh’s historic Princes Street, mini-masts built into phone boxes make more sense. These converted phone boxes not only provide a boost to mobile reception on this bustling thoroughfare, but help preserve a much-loved icon of our national urban heritage.

In a post back in December, I wrote about Small Cells in Phone Boxes here.

In another press release yesterday, Vodafone said:

Picture source: ThinkSmallCell

Visitors to the popular seaside resorts of Polzeath and Sennen Cove in Cornwall this Easter can now receive fast mobile Internet and great voice reception along the beach after Vodafone installed the latest 4G technology in beachfront phone boxes.

Mobile coverage can often be difficult to provide in remote areas and coastal locations due to the local topography and the lack of power and fibre cables needed to link up masts. Vodafone is continually looking at new ways of providing customers with great coverage, including by installing 4G technology into traditional phone boxes, returning them to their roots.

Beach-goers will not only be able to use their smartphones on Vodafone’s ‘4G from a phone box’ service within approximately a 200-metre radius. They can also make use of Vodafone’s range of connected devices, including the V-Pet Tracker to help you pinpoint a dog that has wandered off.

Vodafone is working on a number of initiatives to help support the Government’s ambition of extending mobile coverage to 95% of UK landmass by 2022. In addition to drawing up industry-wide proposals to create a single rural network to cover not spots and partial not spots, last year, Vodafone achieved an industry first by installing the UK’s first mini mobile mast at Porthcurno in Cornwall.



The Cornish 4G-enabled phone boxes are equipped to cope with the increase in mobile usage over the Easter break and over the summer months. During the heatwave in 2018, our network in Cornwall carried nearly 90% more mobile Internet traffic than the previous year.

Vodafone is also testing 4G in phone boxes in busy shopping areas in Edinburgh, Oxford and soon in London. At its technology headquarters in Newbury, Berkshire, Vodafone is trialling housing 4G on the underside of manhole covers.

All pictures, unless mentioned are from Vodafone.

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Saturday, 13 April 2019

China Telecom's PON based Small Cells backhaul to reduce CapEX and OpEX


GSMA has a network economics case study from China Telecom on their future networks website. This case study focuses on the challenges of CapEX and OpEX of small cell backhaul. For coverage and/or capacity enhancement purpose, small cells will be deployed widely in the future. As the number of small cells deployed increases, larger bandwidth and higher flexibility are required for the backhaul transportation, which consequentially leads to higher CapEX and OpEX. Therefore an economic and practical approach has to be put forwarded and verified.

China Telecommunications (CT) is one of the largest state-owned telecommunication companies in China. With the world’s largest broadband Internet network, Frequency Division Duplex – Long Term Evolution (FDD – LTE) mobile network, China Telecom is capable of providing cross-region, fully integrated information services to global customers through its sound customer service channel system.

In this case study, CT proposes a small cell backhaul based on Passive Optical Network (PON) system, which can reduce at least 80% of the trunk fibre and 50% of associated fibre. As a result making facility room and air-conditioning unnecessary. Therefore the CapEX and OpEx of small cell deployment could be reduced effectively and remarkably.

As networks evolve through 4.5G to 5G with more complexity, network densification and intelligence at the edge, the need will be even greater to optimise transport network architecture within mobile Radio Access Network (RAN) to resolve the challenges of backhaul/fronthaul demand and the corresponding increase in costs (CapEX and OpEX).

Key highlights of the case study:
  • Small cell backhaul based on Passive Optical Network (PON) system is proposed, which can reduce at least 80% of the trunk fibre and 50% of associated fibre and facility room and airconditioner are no longer required.
  • China Telecom has conducted laboratory and field test in Hubei City and Shanghai with Huawei and ZTE. The test results proved the feasibility with equipment and performance KPI’s satisfied.
  • Backhaul based PON could be one of the preferred choices for small cell backhaul transport. 
CT selected seven outdoor sites and one indoor site in Hubei, and eight outdoor sites in Shanghai. All the small cells were linked to EPON (Ethernet Passive Optical Network) equipment, which had been updated (software and hardware) to support frequency and time synchronisation. Detailed information about CBUs (Cellular Backhaul Units) and small cells in CT laboratory can be seen in the picture above and more details are provided in the case study.

The case study is available here.


Chengliang Zhang, Vice President of China Telecom Beijing Research Institute, China talked about "Optical Networking in the Cloud and 5G Era" which is embedded below.