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BT and EE join together for Cornish LTE

Mobile and fixed internet collide in the fourth generation

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BT and Everything Everywhere are working together to build a trial network in Cornwall, providing fixed and mobile internet access over the same network and via the same infrastructure.

That infrastructure, comprising two base stations, will cover 25 square kilometres around the Cornish village of St Newlyn East. BT said that 700 homes will be offered (free) fixed internet access for the length of the trial, and the companies are hoping that 100 of them sign up, along with 100 mobile users to give the network a proper workout.

Those mobile users will get free connectivity too, but they'll have to be careful not to be too mobile, given the small size of the trial area. But what's really interesting is the idea of combining fixed and mobile services using the same technology, and over the same frequencies, but supplied by different companies.

Three already touts a "home broadband" solution, notably in Ireland and based on 3G technology. BT's offering will be much the same, with a router connected to a (possibly external) antenna and providing a connection of at least 2Mb/sec (which is a lot when you're in Cornwall). Mobile users should get something similar, but Everything Everywhere is hoping to establish exactly what that will be as part of the tests.

The less-than-dramatic speeds are down to the limited frequencies available. Ofcom has granted the project 20MHz of spectrum around 800MHz (where analogue TV used to be) for the trial period – which runs for about six months from September. That allows for 10MHz in each direction: LTE would happily use twice that, with a corresponding boost in speed.

But LTE is massively flexible, which is what makes it such a powerful technology. LTE connections can be squeezed right down to a few MHz or expanded to 20MHz wide depending on the application. BT and EE will be taking full advantage of that flexibility, though they're still working out whose customers take precedence when it comes to the crunch.

Nokia Siemens Networks will be supplying one base station and Huawei the other; the idea is to test compatibility as well as keeping the suppliers hungry.

We asked if BT might be required to allow other operators to provide service over this new infrastructure, but apparently that's a regulatory matter on which BT wouldn't comment – there's time enough for that kind of discussion when the companies have worked out if they really can live together.

This is, after all, only a test, but it bodes well for the future of rural broadband. WiMAX was supposed to offer connectivity to the not-spots, but building the required infrastructure was never going to be economical. By piggy-backing on a mobile operator that issue could disappear, and the not-spots could get the connection they deserve.

If you live in the area, and fancy signing up, then please do – and let us know how it goes. ®

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