Verizon giving cellular data a boost

Verizon giving cellular data a boost

CUMBERLAND - Verizon has announced plans to improve the quality of data usage in northern Rhode Island. But rather than adding a new cell tower, the company has chosen something that blends in a bit more.

With the introduction of "small cells," Verizon is looking to improve capacity for data usage as more and more people in the area use smartphones to access the Internet. This $70,000 piece of technology consists of a bracket holding together dark fiber cable with two radios and an antenna that can attach to a utility pole in order to enhance data usage.

Rich Enright, executive director for network for Verizon Wireless, said adding small cells was a way to keep up with the increasing demand, as users on the network are beginning to change the way they use their devices.

"We're a long way from how people were using their devices five, 10, 15 years ago," Enright said. "It's a much more data-driven demand. The one small box we have up there is capable of doing IP voice technology. In the past, we've had separate hardware for voice and separate hardware for data, and now we've got hardware out there with the right phone that can serve both."

Enright said the amount of data almost doubled between 2013 and 2014, with a 99.6 percent increase in people using LTE data. As a result, the small cells should also improve areas that currently have slower access for data and Internet usage.

"We've promised a certain amount of bandwidth and speed, and if things start to get near a minimum level there, we're going to be adding hardware," he said.

Though they only cover about one-fourth the range of traditional cells, Enright said the technology does not take long to install, and many can be implemented each day. Verizon asks permission from the pole owner to implement the technology and pays a small fee to the owner.

Enright, along with George Stansfield, Cumberland Mayor Bill Murray's chief of staff, said there hasn't been any objection to adding small cells, citing that they typically aren't noticable additions.

"We don't need a lot of height," Enright said. "People are probably driving past them without much notice of them being there. The fiber we need is typically on the pole anyway."

The small cells already exist in major cities like Boston and Providence, and according to Enright, there are already 120 installed throughout Rhode Island and hundreds throughout New England. However, he said there needs to be an increase in suburban markets like Cumberland in order to meet the demand that's also growing outside of cities.

"We're seeing them do what they're intending to do," Enright said. "We expect demand will continue to increase. We're just going to keep rolling, and it requires us to spend a lot of money. I'm trying to deploy them as fast as the demand is there. It's just how fast we can roll out the solution. We've spent about $4 billion in New England since 2000. A lot has been spent and a lot more is coming."