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Tiny Public Cell Towers in Homes Could Boost Mobile Data Speeds

• Tom Simonite via

Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm and some U.S. wireless carriers are investigating an idea that would see small cellular base stations installed in homes to serve passing smartphone users. That approach is believed to be a more efficient way of meeting the rising demand for data and fixing patchy coverage than building more traditional cell-phone towers.

Qualcomm’s chief technology officer, Mat Grob, pitched the idea at an event in Santa Clara, California, on Tuesday, showing off a base station small enough to be integrated into a set top box or home router. “We are working extensively with operators on this particular project,” Grob told MIT Technology Review after his presentation. Qualcomm has installed 20 of the small prototypes in office buildings around its San Diego campus. A person driving or walking through the area receives a stronger signal on his phone, and faster downloads, as his device hops between the many small base stations, each with a range of tens of meters. “Our next step is to do a larger test, with a network operator and an infrastructure vendor,” says Grob.

Mobile carriers already sell small cellular base stations for personal use, and sometimes hand them out for free to people with a poor signal at home. However, they can only be used by the subscribers that own them, not anyone nearby subscribing to the same cellular network.

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