UB Insider #64: Expanding the Information Superhighway
About this episode:
With a flourishing population and the ever-growing Internet of Things, wireless consumption is higher than ever. So how to carriers keep up with it? Diana Scudder, executive director of Network Assurance for Verizon Wireless, who, fittingly, calls in to tell how wireless carriers are adding lanes to the information superhighway to help keep the data flowing.
[The following has been edited for grammar and clarity.]
Lisa Christensen: Hello and welcome to UB Insider. I’m Lisa Christensen, online editor at Utah Business magazine. With the flourishing population and the ever-growing internet of things, wireless consumption is higher than ever. Nationally consumers across all networks consume ten trillion megabytes of data and Salt Lake City is definitely a part of that. So how do carriers keep up with it? Diana Scudder, executive director of Network Assurance for Verizon Wireless is an expert on the subject. Welcome.
Diana Scudder: Good morning.
Lisa Christensen: Good morning. So Diana, tell me generally how cell usage has grown. We’re kind of a flourishing metropolis right now, so how have things changed in the last few years in terms of cell usage?
Diana Scudder: Okay, well more people are using more wireless devices to do more things in more places than ever before. More than ten trillion megabits of data were used last year which is the equivalent of people streaming roughly 15 million Netflix movies every day on their wireless devices.
And that’s up twofold from 2015.
Lisa Christensen: Oh, wow.
Diana Scudder: And that wireless data usage is projected to grow sevenfold by 2019. So the demand for data consumption is insatiable.
Lisa Christensen: I mean you’ve got to Netflix and chill somehow, right?
Diana Scudder: Yeah.
Lisa Christensen: So how does this compare with national trends? What’s going on in other metros generally?
Diana Scudder: The trend is the same across the country.
Lisa Christensen: So everybody?
Diana Scudder: Yeah, everybody. It’s not just people doing selifes and Facebook posts and streaming videos. Wireless data is also enabling things like smart cities and cloud adoption, connected schools, the internet of things and wearables. Our mobile devices have become mini computers in our pockets, basically becoming the remote control for our lives.
Lisa Christensen: Yeah, I don’t like to admit it but I can’t go very long without mine.
Diana Scudder: Me neither.
Lisa Christensen: So this sounds like this is a trend that’s just predicted to become more and more prominent.
Diana Scudder: Absolutely, and that’s why we’re deploying small cells. They allow us to add more capacity to the network so that we can be able to support all of this growing demand of data and usage from the consumers.
Lisa Christensen: Yeah, it sounds like those cell towers are just not able to keep up with this. I mean, who can expect them to, right?
Diana Scudder: Well our towers are fine, it’s just, think of it like I-15. There’s a lot of traffic going down that highway. Think of that as being like our network. Small cells allow us to add more lanes to I-15 so that customers can get on the network and get off the network quickly. They are able to do the things that they need to do without experiencing any gridlock. So small cells complement the existing cell towers that are out there. We’ll still continue to build more cell towers along with small cells and in-building solutions, we’ll just customize what we implement to fit each situation.
Lisa Christensen: Tell me about the development of small cells and this kind of adaptation to a hyper-connected world.
Diana Scudder: Small cells are a much smaller form factor than your traditional macro towers that you see. Macro sites cover about a mile to two mile radius whereas small cells are strategically placed. They’re more like hot spots and they serve about 1,000 square feet where data volume is the highest. They’re composed of an antennae, a radio which is about the size of a home office paper shredder, a power source and a dark fiber connection back into our network. We typically deploy small cells on street lights or utility poles and sometimes on a rough top. They’re very small. They blend in with the environment around them but it helps us get closer to where the traffic volume exists.
Lisa Christensen: Tell me about how you’ve made them so unobtrusive. What was the thought process or design that went into this?
Diana Scudder: Basically it’s just like how our devices have gotten smaller. The cell site equipment has also gotten smaller and that’s where we’ve worked with the manufacturers to try to come up with solutions that really blend in with the environment. We’ve worked to get them small enough to deploy on small street lights that are about 30-feet in the air. It helps them to blend in more with their surroundings and be more aesthetically pleasing.
Lisa Christensen: Is there any kind of a limit to this? You know, you used the metaphor of them being like extra lanes on I-15. Is there any limit to how many of these hot spots you can have giving additional capacity to the towers?
Diana Scudder: The main thing that we do in order to deploy these is that we work with the local jurisdictions through the zoning process. But as far as how many, there really is no limit. Verizon will continue to invest in our network year-over-year and continue to deploy in order to meet the capacity and demands of our customers. We will continue to work with local leaders in order to do so.
Lisa Christensen: At what point did these small cells become necessary? How long have they been sneaking up around our cities?
Diana Scudder: Alright, we’ve been deploying them for a couple years now, again, going through the proper processes to get the permissions required. But they’re continuing to be deployed each year and it is relatively new to the Salt Lake area just since about 2015.
Lisa Christensen: It seems like there’s been an evolution in terms of aesthetics and attitudes as this technology has evolved.
Diana Scudder: Yeah, sure. Yes, we do get feedback from communities and we work with the local leaders to make sure that the solutions that we’re implementing meet well with the communities around them. We are committed to making sure that our customers have the connection that they need and the capacity needed to support the demand. But we also work very closely with the communities to be a good neighbor and to take their feedback into consideration. We work with community leaders to implement it.
Lisa Christensen: So what do you think the future or the future evolution of this will be? What do you think the near future will look like in terms of connectivity?
Diana Scudder: I think you’ll see more and more small cells being deployed in metro areas like Salt Lake and the surrounding communities as it’s really the future of our 4G LTE. More connections are required back to the internet of things. There was recently a study done that said that the average household has 13 connections. That’s just going to continue to grow. So I believe that small cells are really going to be the vessel that allows us to continue to deliver 4G capacity to support the demand.
Lisa Christensen: And then just going back, just because I’m curious, what was the original inspiration or impetus for these small cells?
Diana Scudder: Technology evolution. I mean, technology continues to evolve every day and doesn’t stand still. I believe as you look back in time and you see how much data consumption we had five and ten years ago versus now, that pure demand and the way people are using data differently than they did a decade ago is what drove the need for the evolution to small cells.
Lisa Christensen: And that’s just going to continue and become more and more important it sounds like.
Diana Scudder: Absolutely, especially in urban areas.
Lisa Christensen: Alright, well thank you so much Diana. I really appreciate your time. Stop by our website, UtahBusiness.com to see some photos of these small cells. You can also drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with us on social media at @utahbusiness. You can also subscribe to UB Insider wherever you find your podcasts. Thanks for listening.