Reliable cell service needs to be a priority in Harvard Square

Every year, Harvard Square welcomes over 20,000 students -- most located within a two-mile radius -- in addition to thousands of visitors from all over the world.

Harvard Square businesses depend on students, guests and residents coming to experience our rich history, hotels, shopping, restaurants and more.

When Steve Jobs released the first iPhone 11 years ago, few understood the impact smartphones would have on society. We now use our mobile phones to watch movies, handle banking, get directions, recommend restaurants, book hotels, share experiences via social media and more.

Beyond the convenience aspects, mobile phones have also become essential to public safety. Eighty percent of 911 calls today originate from a mobile phone and mobile alerts have become the default method for safety officials to push out important information to the public. Reliable service for public safety is particularly important in Harvard Square with events such as Oktoberfest and Harvard Commencement taking place annually.

There are 262 million smartphone users in the U.S., over half of American households have abandoned their landline, and wireless data traffic has increased 238 percent in the last two years alone.

As individuals and businesses continue to increasingly rely on wireless for daily activities, we must ensure that our networks and infrastructure can handle the burden. With 95 percent of Americans owning a cell phone of some kind and 77 percent of users using their mobile device to go online daily, we simply cannot afford for Harvard Square to have “poor service.”

The foundational step to ensuring quality service in this era of unprecedented demand is to upgrade our communications infrastructure.

This means more connection points via next generation infrastructure known as “small cells.” Small cells are exactly what they sound like. Small nodes usually attached to a streetlight or utility pole, that work in concert with other infrastructure already in place to add much needed coverage and capacity.

The best part about small cells is that they not only immediately improve service today, but they will also serve as the backbone for future 5G networks which will be 20-times faster and handle 100-times the capacity of 4G -- ultimately enabling self-driving cars, smart-city applications and more.

For decades, Harvard Square has been at the forefront of adopting new technologies to benefit businesses, residents and visitors. Deploying the necessary infrastructure to support today and tomorrow’s mobile economy is the next step to ensuring this trend continues.

Denise Jillson is the executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association.