Ericsson, Philips to outfit LED light poles with small cells

BARCELONA, Spain—Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) announced it is working with Philips to develop LED street lights that can be outfitted with small cells and backhaul. This joint effort could go a long way toward helping operators make their networks denser and it could also offer an opportunity for city managers to rent space on light poles to telecom providers.

Speaking at the Ericsson media event here at the Mobile World Congress trade show, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg said that Philips is already working with cities to upgrade existing lamp poles to LED lighting, which is more energy efficient and cost-effective. In this scenario, Philips could also outfit the lamp pole with a small radio base station that would not be intrusive but would provide cities with additional mobile broadband capacity.

Ericsson could then manage the network of small cell sites that are on lamp posts, which would available for mobile operators to use via a managed service type of relationship with the company. Cities, meanwhile, would be able to rent the small cells to Ericsson or directly to the telecom providers giving the cities additional revenue.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Patrik Jakobson, head of network sharing in the managed services business at Ericsson, said that the small cells on the light poles will likely include Wi-Fi, 3G and LTE technology. He added that light poles in areas such as bus stops or near high traffic corners would likely be the first to be outfitted with the small cells.

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) CTO Tony Melone, who spoke briefly at the Ericsson media event, said he was excited about this solution and was anxious to see it evolve.

Interestingly, this isn't the first time a company has talked about using street lamps for a wireless network. Back in the late 1990s Metricom built a mobile data network that used small repeaters were mounted on streetlights. Metricom had to negotiate agreements with municipal governments to get access to the street lights. 

Metricom did launch service in several cities and at one time reportedly had more than 51,000 subscribers. However in July 2001 the company filed for bankruptcy and shut down its service. 

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