Connecting an emerging city

With Dubai expected to have a population of about 2.5 million by 2010, as well as attracting up to 15 million tourists a year by the same time, there is likely to be growing pressure on the emirate's infrastructure, including its mobile phone networks.

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By  Administrator Published  November 19, 2007

Dubai is suffering growing pains; everywhere you look there are visible signs of an expanding city, with massive highway interchanges and communities springing up across the outskirts of the city, and towers rising.

This drive to expand the city at a relentless rate is to match the estimated 25,000 new residents that come to live and work in the city.

The Metro network is developing rapidly. The technology exists to ensure coverage throughout stations and public areas, in tunnels and even on the trains themselves.

Of course, this isn't one-way traffic. There are people that leave the city permanently every day, but their numbers in no way match the arrivals and there are also the 15 million tourists that Dubai wants to attract each year by 2010.

While Dubai's heavy traffic might be a common topic of conversation, there is another kind of traffic that's not discussed, although it is equally important to the smooth running of the city; cell-phone traffic. Cell-phone technology is relatively simple. When you make a call, it is wirelessly linked to the telephone network via cell-masts that connect your call. Multiple cell-phone towers sited across the city and throughout large buildings, allow us to connect to the network any time, day or night.

Each cell tower has a limit to the number of cell-phones it can handle at any given time though and with the ever growing population comes the increased strain on the networks.

Mobile phone subscriptions are already sitting at over 100%. Figures from Etisalat in 2006 showed there were just under five million cell-phone handsets in the UAE.

And for this reason, Etisalat has concluded roaming agreements with more than 265 operators, and millions of overseas visitors rely on these agreements to get calls connected when they stay in Dubai. The value of this business to the operators is hundreds of millions of dirhams. The value to the caller could be the same, particularly to people who are in Dubai for business.

Dubai would not run the way it does without cell-phones and the ever-increasing population ultimately leads to increasing numbers of subscribers for the telecom operators. These subscribers all want to be able to make and receive calls whenever they want, so they rely on there being a cell tower that can carry the signal. The strain placed on the operators to ensure clarity and quality of service goes even further:

• People need places to live and work; more people means more apartments and offices buildings to accommodate them. Tall buildings cause signal ‘shadows' where a cell-phone signal drops between towers. This increases the need for more cell towers and base stations.

• The addition of the second operator with its own network, du, means more cell towers and base stations throughout the city as plans to implement full site sharing between du and Etisalat are still in the early stages of implementation.

•Tall towers need ‘in-building' coverage. Above the 13th floor of any building, cell-phone signal strength can be drastically affected as the phone can access more cell towers but they are further away, confusing the cell-phone. The cell-masts located outside the building are not calibrated for use by people that inhabit the apartments or offices.

• The metro presents more coverage challenges - especially in tunnels. How do other cities cope with the demand for subterranean coverage?

The question that needs to be asked is whether the residents of Dubai want a sea of cell masts spread throughout the city, or are there other solutions. With the city growing at an unrelenting pace, what do the operators need to do to deal with all these challenges to ensure coverage and quality of service for subscribers?

AlanDick provides the technology that is the backbone of the cellular network - the cell towers, base stations, in-building solutions and cabling - all of which normally goes unnoticed; that is unless you live opposite a 30 metre tall cell-mast.

This is an area that AlanDick works in, and the company has been making increasingly bold and unusual designs that blend into the surrounding architecture or landscape. One design already deployed around Dubai is a cell-mast disguised as a tall palm tree.

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