Vodafone-connected bus shelters aim to improve mobile coverage, speeds

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Waiting for a bus that never seems to arrive might have a silver lining in the near future, if you’re a Vodafone subscriber. The mobile operator has tricked out bus shelters with technology to boost mobile broadband speed.

By installing so-called small cells at the bus stops, mobile operators can move voice and data traffic off existing cellular networks to improve performance. The small cells cover a limited area and have their own connection to the operator’s core network.

While the advantages of using the mini base stations are easy to understand, finding good places to install the hardware isn’t always easy, however. To get help finding spots to place the small cells, Vodafone has signed a global agreement with outdoor advertising company JCDecaux to deploy the devices on bus shelters and stand-alone ad panels to enhance network performance.

The use of small cells that connect users to either cellular or WiFi networks will play a key role in mobile networks. Last month, Nokia demonstrated a small cell that offers speeds at up to 220Mbps using LTE-Advanced.

A pilot project in Amsterdam that included 160 connected bus shelters convinced Vodafone the small cells work well enough to be rolled out on a larger scale.

This week, Vodafone in the Netherlands also signed a deal with Ericsson to improve indoor coverage at a Dutch university using the network vendor’s Radio Dot small cells, which work with LTE-Advanced. For now, Vodafone isn’t revealing detailed plans, but the small cells will be used to improve 3G and LTE connectivity.

CDecaux has over 100,000 spots Vodafone can take advantage of in countries such as Germany, U.K., Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia. The deal calls for Vodafone to deploy and manage the technology while JCDecaux will be responsible for designing and manufacturing the housing for the equipment.

The advertising company has been pushing hard to take advantage of the more than 1 million billboards it has around the world. It’s also collaborating with equipment vendors Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei Technologies, for example. The deal with Vodafone isn’t exclusive, so other operators can take advantage of its assets to improve coverage and speeds.

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