In my last blog post, I talked about the need for mobile network operators (MNO) to tap into small cells that are connected to city-wide superfast fibre networks to enable a scalable roll-out of 5G, and to ensure that the needs of mobile users for more and more bandwidth are met in the future. The MNOs that offer users the best 5G experience will emerge as the winners, so we’re seeing more and more operators addressing the capacity problems of rooftop base stations by investing in small cells. Yet, other MNOs looking to evolve their networks with small cells aren’t the only competitive threat for operators. Street furniture companies might grab a slice of their profits too. Through city-wide Wi-Fi schemes, street furniture companies are eliminating completely the need for mobile users to use their operator for data in some cases. Why would a mobile user pay a premium for patchy 5G connectivity, if they can get better speeds and coverage with free Wi-Fi? Imagine a situation today where you have five people waiting for a bus, all with a brand new 150 mbps iPhone 6. Today’s congested 3G and 4G networks that rely on rooftop base stations aren’t able to cope with the sudden surge in bandwidth demand, as all five iPhone 6 users try to read the news, order groceries or download a restaurant menu, at the same time. The growth in bandwidth demand is not only about smartphones, tablets and other mobile computing gadgets though. Other types of connected ‘things’ will require their share of the already stretched networks too. Industry analysts have estimated that the number of wireless connected things will exceed 16 billion in 2014, up 20% from the year before. This growth is set to continue as the Internet of Things gathers pace, with more than double the number of connected devices – 40.9 billion – forecasted for 2020.Street furniture companies around Europe are looking to capitalise on the opportunities that this influx in connected devices offers. Through partnerships with public sector authorities, they are equipping lampposts, billboards, bus stops and public toilets with small cells. When connected to fibre networks, these small cells can collectively deliver up to Gigabytes per second of capacity, bringing superfast free Wi-Fi to city-dwellers’ fingertips.Thanks to small cells, there is also scope for street furniture companies to open up additional revenue streams through location-based loyalty schemes with retailers, banks and restaurants. These businesses could target prospective customers through ads, vouchers and special offers, delivered directly to their connected device. The MNO community has been talking about the potential of small cells for a couple of years, and now street furniture players are realising their potential too. Through high-bandwidth 5G coverage and city-wide Wi-Fi networks, small cells will play a central role in powering people’s increasingly digital lives. We’re excited to be part of this evolution, working with both the mobile community and street furniture companies in their small cells deployments, and look forward to connecting billions of mobiles, tablets, smartwatches and other things to our pan-European network.