The evolution of mobile networks

Opticom Engineering Pty Ltd
Tuesday, 01 August, 2006

In recent years, mobile operators have been forced to change and evolve their technologies and approach to rolling out the latest mobile telephony networks.

This has come about because councils and the public have become much more aware of the intrusion that tower and antennas can have on the environment.

When mobile telephony was first introduced, major civil infrastructure (monopoles and towers), were commonplace amid suburban housing, schools, shopping centres and parks and there was very little council and the general public could do to curb these installations.

Major infrastructure was erected wherever increased coverage and capacity was required.

It was not long before enough council and public unrest resulted in government action releasing new legislation limiting the power telecommunication carriers had over councils.

High impact installations (towers, monopoles and large parabolics) required development application submissions to council and needless to say, councils and the general public finally felt that vengeance was theirs by objecting to these development applications.

People wanted mobile reception yet no one wanted to see the infrastructure. As a result, the following changes were seen:

  1. Greenfield sites requiring new monopoles and towers were more carefully selected;
  2. Rooftop sites became more commonplace as they were primarily low impact installations;
  3. Co-locations (sharing the same major infrastructure and sites) increased avoiding development applications;
  4. Equipment became more compact to avoid overloading structures.

With time, mobile phone usage increased and started to become more commonplace. Mobile phone carriers were now facing new hurdles including the following:

  1. Introduction of new mobile technology - 1800 and CDMA.
  2. New mobile carriers rolling out similar technology meant that there were many more co-locations;
  3. There was now more general public unrest due to the perception of high level EME radiation from the multitude of antennas on certain sites;
  4. More users meant more capacity requirements, blackspots needed to be covered requiring the building of new sites and upgrading of existing sites;
  5. Upgrading and protection of dedicated backbone transmission links including fibre optic and microwave radio links to support higher capacity requirements. The thought of losing a major traffic route was unthinkable due to the amount of traffic now carried;
  6. Technology had to become smarter and compact enough to fit in locations where antennas had not been installed before - light poles, power poles, telegraph poles, faces of buildings.

With the introduction of 3G, it was apparent that most of the civil infrastructure was bordering on being overloaded. Acquiring the number of sites required to provide adequate 3G coverage was not going to be cheap.

This time around, two network operators shared the same antennas, mounts and cables and split the traffic in the equipment shelter using smarter electronics.

Furthermore, older technology equipment was replaced with new technology that could support multiple bands.

The future of mobile telecommunication networks remains to be seen, but with the introduction of mobile internet, mobile television, 4G, smarter handsets that are more than just a "mobile telephone", it appears that in the not too distant future, mobile networks and the associated technologies will once again evolve.

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