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Base Stations and Masts

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How It All Works

What Is A Cell?

There are three types of cells: macrocells, microcells and picocells.

macrotwoA macrocell provides the main coverage in a mobile network. The antennas for macrocells are mounted on ground-based masts, rooftops and other existing structures. They must be positioned at a height that is not obstructed by surrounding buildings and terrain. Macrocell base stations have a typical power output of tens of watts.

  • current and future customer call use because each base station can only support a limited number of calls simultaneously
  • the physical terrain of an area as radio signals are blocked by man-made and natural obstacles such as buildings, trees and hills
  • the frequency band in which the network operates can affect cell size - normally the higher the radio frequency (as in 3G technology) the smaller the cell

The cells in the third generation (3G) network are smaller because 3G uses a higher radio frequency. These cells also expand and contract in size depending on the number of simultaneous calls being made. For this reason, 3G cells have to overlap more than 2G cells.

Expanding The Mobile Network

More base stations were built to enhance the infrastructure for 2G and 3G mobile phone networks; operators are using the existing base station network as far as possible for 4G antennas, although some additional sites will be needed in rural areas.

New base stations are required as each cell can only support a finite number of mobile phone calls at any one time. If there is a high customer demand in a cell, greater capacity is needed to enable more calls to be made. This can be done by placing another mast in between the existing cells and creating additional smaller cells.

3G networks use smaller cells because they have to support the transmission of large amounts of information and operate at a higher frequency. 3G cells also expand and contract in size depending on the number of simultaneous calls being made. For this reason, 3G cells overlap more than 2G cells. 4G networks operate on 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz. 

Site Sharing

Site sharing is when two or more mobile phone operators agree to put their base station antennas on the same structure, such as water tower or roof-top. Mast sharing is when the antennas are put on the same mast.

Operators try to share sites whenever possible. However, it is not always a viable option. Shared masts are normally taller and have more impact on the environment because they have to accommodate two or more sets of antennas. The more antennas that are clustered together, the higher the overall radio frequency emissions are likely to be. Further, the radio frequencies that different mobile network operators use are not always compatible and could interfere with existing antennas.

Bluetooth Technology

Bluetooth is a technology specification designed to eliminate the cables and infrared links used to connect disparate devices. Its aim is to provide small design, low-cost, short range wireless interconnectivity between, for example, laptop computers, mobile phones, headsets, watches, digital cameras and cars. It also enables close-range applications in public areas like e-cash transactions.

Based on low power radio frequency technology using 2.4 GHz spectrum and a power level of 10mW, the data rate is almost 1Mbit per second and the range is approximately 10 metres. The technology enables users to connect a wide range of computing and telecommunications devices easily and simply, without the need to buy, carry, or connect cables.

It also delivers opportunities for rapid ad hoc connections, and the possibility of automatic, unconscious, connections between devices. It will virtually eliminate the need to purchase additional or proprietary cabling to connect individual devices. Because Bluetooth can be used for a variety of purposes, it will potentially replace multiple cable connections via a single radio link.


89.9 Million Mobile Subscriptions

Mobile telecommunications are vital for the UK’s economic competitiveness and in promoting social inclusion. There are now 89.9 million subscriptions in the UK. In Q1 2015 61% of UK adults used their mobile phone for internet access. Tablet ownership is 54% of UK households. Operators are working with Ofcom to extend the benefits of mobile communications as widely as possible; 99.7% of UK premises (homes and businesses) had outdoor 2G coverage from at least one operator; 3G coverage is slightly lower at 99.3% and 4G has reached 89.5%.

Smartphone ownership 

Two thirds of all adults (66%) now own a smartphone, this is on a par with laptop ownership. The proportion of adults that accessed the internet on a mobile handset increased to 61%. Over half of households (54%) had a tablet computer. Twenty eight percent of individuals now own an e-reader.