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AT&T says it's successfully improved swamped or spotty networks with first small cell tests

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AT&T has started testing small cells, the short-range cellular technology that can alleviate stress on patchy or overburdened networks, and the company says initial results are good. AT&T reports it tested its cells in parts of Waukesha, Wisconsin and Crystal Lake Park, Missouri, respectively targeting a large building full of dead zones and a busy neighborhood. According to Wired, adding small cells in Waukesha "virtually eliminated dropped calls," and it increased traffic by 17 percent in Crystal Lake Park, with coverage improved across the board.

Small cells have been put forward as a potential solution to poor service both by carriers and the FCC, which announced it would free up spectrum for them last year, but we've so far been short on actual results. Sprint is planning to supplement its LTE network with small cell coverage, Verizon has similar goals, and AT&T has spent the last year reiterating its commitment to testing small cell coverage. Now, we're seeing the first fruits of that promise, something that will hopefully spur more wide-scale deployment. AT&T small cell director Gordon Mansfield tells Wired that he'll focus first on the worst problem areas — though we're still not exactly sure when that will happen.

Update: AT&T has officially posted about the results, saying that it's indeed planning a broader rollout in 2013. While we don't have details about how quickly that will happen, the medium-term goal is to deploy "more than 40,000 small cells by the end of 2015."