Ericsson, Nokia help U.S. Cellular add temporary capacity at 450+ sites during pandemic

Most of the network enhancements were done remotely. (Getty Images)

Ericsson and Nokia are each helping U.S. Cellular boost capacity at hundreds of cell sites with additional AWS-3 spectrum that the operator has temporary access to during the coronavirus crisis.

Nokia on Monday said it was helping U.S. Cellular increase capacity at 250 cell sites to shore up connectivity for customers in parts of California, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. Ericsson on Tuesday announced it’s working with the carrier to bring additional spectrum online across more than 200 sites in parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire, Maine and North Carolina.

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“We’ve seen an increase in voice, SMS and data traffic in recent weeks, but we’ve designed a highly reliable, hardened network that can withstand shifts in bandwidth needs and handle unexpected increases in usage,” said Michael Irizarry, EVP and CTO for U.S. Cellular, in a statement. “During these critical yet uncertain times, we’re committed to keeping our customers connected and to keeping our network running to ensure continuous service.”

The FCC last month granted U.S. Cellular’s request for Special Temporary Authority (STA) to utilize additional AWS-3 spectrum licensed to Advantage Spectrum for a 60-day period. That approval coincided with similar STA authorizations for carriers including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, which were meant to help ensure networks could stand up to any potential increased demand related the mass shift of more American’s learning, working, and staying at home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The additional temporary spectrum deployed by U.S. Cellular mainly consists of 5 MHz blocks, with some larger blocks in specific geographic areas, according to a U.S. Cellular spokesperson, who also confirmed that most of the enhancement work was done remotely.

Nokia emphasized that in its announcement, noting the Finnish vendor had integrated the additional spectrum remotely on its Airscale Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment.

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In news releases about the network boost, Irizarry pointed to U.S. Cellular’s long-standing relationships with Nokia and Ericsson, expressing gratitude for the rivals’ respective support to make immediate network enhancements and help deliver uninterrupted service.

“Our mission has always been to help our customers connect the unconnected. This can be challenging under normal circumstances but especially critical in a time of crisis like we have now,” said Rob Johnson, head of Customer Unit Regional Carriers for Ericsson North America, in statement. “Our teams have been working around the clock to ensure our customers’ networks can withstand shifts in bandwidth needs as people continue to work and use video conferencing from home and kids are attending classes online instead of in the classroom.”

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Nokia also announced that U.S. Cellular is using its Endpoint Security solutions to help detect malware across various devices, targeting COVID-19-related threats that have emerged like apps purporting to locate medical masks. This enables the carrier to see which customer devices are affected, the specific type of malware that’s being downloaded, along with the overall threat level so that U.S. Cellular’s operations team can take the appropriate measures.

“During this global pandemic, Nokia understands now more than ever the importance of maintaining seamless network connectivity,” said Scott Cohen, head of U.S. Major Account Sales for Nokia, in a statement. “Whether customers are at home working and streaming video or out in the field performing essential business functions, we are committed to helping U.S. Cellular keep their customers connected to the network from anywhere and at any time, as well as ensuring they can do so safely and securely with our Endpoint Security solutions.”