When cell phones began to be used for more than just calling and texting, cell phone carriers had the difficult task of getting more bandwidth from current towers. While the standard connection was the rough equivalent of a 56k mode, customers wanted broadband speed and capabilities.
The cell phone carriers found what they needed with high-speed packet access (HSPA). While this is the most widely used way for carriers to reach broadband speeds, it isn't the only way. There are some little known carriers that don't use HSPA as well as some older towers that may not be fitted for the technology.
All cell phone carriers are looking for new ways to increase their bandwidth as people use their phones for doing everything from playing games over the internet and watching movies to surfing the web. High speed internet providers in my area, such as cable and satellite companies, are also dealing with these types of issues.
Leaving Copper Behind
Fiber optic cables have been used for data transfer for years. They allow packets of energy to travel from one place to the other with almost no resistance. A signal can travel great distances very fast and without degradation. This is considerably better than the common method of using copper wiring. Copper is a good conductor of electricity and data, but the signal degrades over time and gets worse the further away from the source of the signal.
Many of the original cell towers were connected using copper wiring and so have been limited. This goes for both HSPA and non-HSPA towers. In an effort to create more bandwidth, cell phone companies are fitting towers will fiber optic cabling, so they can handle more information.
What does this mean for towers without HSPA capability? It doesn't provide quite the cell bump in bandwidth and quality as HSPA enabled cell sites, but it will be dramatically improved. Simply installing a fiber optic connection can increase bandwidth speeds anywhere from 10 to 100 times. With a non-HSPA, that number is likely to be closer to the 10 than 100, but 10 times is still better than nothing.
This is the wave of the future for cell technology, as fiber optic networks are already becoming the norm. This just extends them to the cell towers themselves. When a video is streamed or something is downloaded, the speed heavily relies on the landline connection and not the HSPA technology. Sadly, while this will increase bandwidth and improve reception, it will probably mean little improvement for dropped calls.
Dropped calls are based on the availability of a tower and not the connection to it. If there are no towers within range, the call will still drop. There are thousands of cell towers throughout the country and it will take years and millions of dollars to connect them all with fiber optics cable.
Instead, cell carriers (both HSPA and non-HSPA) will work little by little to change over the towers. They will start with those shouldering the heaviest load and go from there. The bandwidth glut created by smartphones is only going to increase as time goes on and everyone is working to get the most out of current technology.
High speed internet providers in my area are replacing copper wiring with fiber optics and cell phone carriers are doing the same. As screens get bigger and phones are able to do more and more, the need for fiber optic connections for non-HSPA cell sites will only continue.