Verizon wanted to put cells up on traffic lights and nearly 100-year-old historic lamp posts, but the city nixed those ideas. Other locations are cleverly hidden. On the outside of the Hyatt Regency hotel, only about 30 feet (10 meters) above the sidewalk, there's a Verizon cell clad in a hard foam-like substance that matches the hotel's 44-year-old concrete walls.
New technology is helping Verizon's stealthy rollout. For the past 18 months or so, it's been using small cells that are stripped down to just an amplifier about a foot square and a separate antenna. All the other processing takes place in a central hub that can be as far as seven miles away. Verizon links the two with fiber.
A Verizon Wireless small cell in San Francisco, seen on Jan. 27, 2016, uses C-RAN (cloud radio access network) technology. Credit: Stephen Lawson
This C-RAN (cloud radio access network) is part of Verizon's plan for 5G. It wants to be the first carrier in the U.S. to offer 5G and plans trials at its innovation centers in San Francisco and Waltham, Massachusetts, this year.
The downtown buildout is paying off in performance, French said. In a standard speed test on Market Street next to one of Verizon's small cells, his iPhone showed a download speed of more than 52Mbps (bits per second) and an upstream rate of almost 15Mbps. That was in early afternoon, the busiest time on the network in San Francisco, according to French.
A Verizon Wireless speed test in downtown San Francisco on Jan. 27, 2016, shows the performance of a network bolstered to accommodate Super Bowl fan activity. Credit: Stephen Lawson
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