Bridging the Digital Divide: Open Access, Small Cells, and the Path to Universal Connectivity

In today’s digitally driven world, technology and digital connectivity shape a significant part of our lives. From work and socializing to education and entertainment, we rely heavily on staying connected to the digital world. The COVID-19 pandemic has further emphasized the importance of digital connectivity, with many people mandated to work and study remotely to adhere to social distancing protocols. As a consequence, the importance of robust and extensive digital connectivity has become more critical than ever before.

In this article, we will explore the importance of technological opportunities, society’s increasing reliance on technology, and the role of small cells in the deployment of wireless networks. We’ll also discuss ways in which local authorities, mobile network operators (MNOs), and partners across the supply chain can work together to unlock existing infrastructure and fuel inclusive growth.

The Importance of Technological Opportunities

One of the key focuses of all authorities is to ensure that they capitalize on technological and economic opportunities to improve the quality of life and avoid digital and social exclusion. This approach enables authorities to stay nimble and proactive to changes in the market, leading to the adoption of a forward-thinking approach.

In recent years, many local authorities have been working hard to improve their digital infrastructure, recognizing the importance of digital connectivity for residents and the local economy. These efforts include improving digital infrastructure, investing in new technologies, incentivizing businesses, and offering training and support to residents.

Society’s increasing reliance on technology

To put it simply, society is becoming more reliant on technology. From the smartphones in our pockets to the smart homes we live in, technology is increasingly integrated into our daily lives. This trend is expected to continue, with more and more devices being connected to the internet each year.

This trend has led to the need for more reliable and faster digital connectivity than ever before. People are now looking for internet speeds that can handle data-heavy tasks, such as streaming video, online gaming, and video conferencing, without lag or buffering.

The CIA and the Future of Wireless Communication Networks

The Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator (DCIA) provides local authorities and technology providers with access to up to £4 million for funding the development of tomorrow’s wireless communication networks. The aim of the DCIA is to help speed up the adoption of new technologies such as 5G, which is expected to revolutionize the telecommunications industry.

With the DCIA, local authorities can work together with technology providers to develop wireless communication networks that are faster, more reliable, and have greater coverage. This opens up opportunities for businesses and residents in areas that were previously underserved by digital infrastructure.

The Promise of 5G Technology

One of the most significant technological advances in recent years is the promise of 5G technology. 5G has the potential to change the way we interact with our local environment, with the promise of faster download speeds, lower latency, and the ability to connect more devices simultaneously.

One of the main challenges in deploying 5G technology is the densification of the network, which involves installing more antennas in a smaller area. Small cells can achieve this through some of the technologies in 5G, such as coordinated multipoint (CoMP) and enhanced interference coordination (eICIC). Small cells can also be used to improve network coverage in urban areas where space is limited, and there are typically high numbers of users.

Small Cells and the Deployment of Wireless Networks

A small cell is a miniature base station that can be installed on top of existing infrastructure such as street lights, power poles, and buildings. Small cells are particularly useful in areas with poor or no coverage, as they can improve signal quality and provide better coverage. With the majority of small cells sited on council-owned street furniture, the deployments already allow users to enjoy download speeds of up to 300 Mbps in areas that previously had poor or no coverage.

However, the overall rollout of small cells on existing infrastructure has been hindered by previous commercial models, where a party buys the rights to the infrastructure for a set period. This model can limit access and make it difficult to deploy small cells in areas where there is no commercial interest.

Addressing Hindrances to Small Cell Roll-out

Some local authorities – such as those in Leeds, Liverpool, and Glasgow – have taken steps to address these issues. They’ve adopted an ‘open access’ approach, whereby anybody can approach them to use the asset at a set price. This approach, which is based on setting a ‘fair price’, has been successful in encouraging MNOs to invest in areas with poor or no coverage.

This approach has facilitated the deployment of small cells by reducing the complexity and cost of deploying them, thereby increasing the number of successful deployments. Simplifying the supply chain for small cells provides enormous benefits to everybody involved – the MNO, the local authority, and most importantly, the local communities.

Working Together for Inclusive Growth

Local authorities, MNOs, and partners across the supply chain must work together to unlock existing infrastructure and fuel inclusive growth. We need to step closer to a utopia where not only the four MNOs are working together more closely, but local councils and partners across the supply chain are also working together to unlock existing infrastructure and fuel inclusive growth.

In conclusion, it is clear that digital connectivity and infrastructure development are critical to the future of our society. Local authorities have a key role to play in fostering an environment that is supportive of digital connectivity while incentivizing businesses and residents to get involved in developing our digital infrastructure. By working together, we can ensure that all members of our society have access to the digital tools they need to engage with the world and lead fulfilling lives.

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