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Verizon Taps Small Cells to Boost Coverage in San Francisco as City Booms

The company plans to install about 400 of the smaller cellular sites, which can fit on top of existing utility poles.


Amid San Francisco’s continued tech boom, wireless carriers are increasingly trying to find new ways to boost coverage without disrupting the city’s iconic views.

Verizon is beginning a project to add about 400 “small cells” to boost coverage in the northeast part of the city, where many of the area’s tech companies and workers are located. Small cells have about a quarter of the cost of traditional cells, but only cover about a quarter of the area. In addition, they are significantly smaller, consisting of just two radios and a single antenna and can fit on top of an existing utility pole.

“With all this architecture and beauty, I think this is a great alternative [that still meets] that increased demand … without any of the visual distraction,” says Eric Reed, vice president of entertainment and tech policy for Verizon.

Verizon has already used the smaller cells in other cities, including New York, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The carrier began notifying residents in some areas this week and hopes to begin installing equipment in the second quarter. The goal is to have all of the upgrades in place by the end of the year, ahead of Super Bowl 50, which is expected to bring a million additional people to San Francisco. (The game is actually being played at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, but some events will take place in San Francisco.)

Increasing the amount of cellular equipment is one of two major ways that carriers are looking to increase capacity. The other is to boost the amount of spectrum, or airwaves, they use in a particular area. Verizon markets its additional airwave cities as offering “XLTE,” but other carriers are also deploying additional airwaves to increase their coverage.

 Can you spot the itty-bitty cells in these before-and-after renderings from Verizon?
Can you spot the itty-bitty cells in these before-and-after renderings from Verizon?

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