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O2 smears 4G trial over capital

Growing from Slough like a 100Mb/s fungus

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O2 is spreading its LTE trial across The Big Smoke, connecting up a thousand people at 4G speeds for the next seven months* to see what Londoners' can do with 100Mb/s.

The trial extension includes 25 base stations across the capital, including the O2 arena, Canary Wharf and the like. But the 1,000 trialists will only get to use the 2.6GHz band which is currently laying fallow, rather than the more interesting 800MHz band which is technically more challenging but still full of the last analogue TV transmissions.

Most of those involved in the trial will be using laptop dongles to access the network, though O2 promises a few wireless hotspots and handsets too. The network claims a peak performance of 150Mb/s, but obviously won't hit half that outside laboratory conditions. It's still going to be fast though, probably faster than the Wi-Fi networks which already blanket the area - at least until there are more than 1,000 people start trying to use it.

O2 has been filling the 2.6GHz band with LTE, around Slough, for the last year or two, under an test licence from Ofcom which has now been expanded to cover London. The band used to be known as "3G expansion" as it was expected to be used for 3G services which are filling 2.1GHz, though that never happened. Now it's going to be auctioned off as part of the 4G Mega Auction which Ofcom keeps insisting is right on track for the tail end of next year.

That auction will also see 800MHz on the block, the "digital dividend" band cleared of analogue TV transmissions. 800MHz has much better building penetration and range, so offers the potential for greater coverage for less money - perhaps spreading 4G where 3G was never able to reach.

But these trials aren't about that, this is about demonstrating that LTE works in providing data connectivity to laptop computers in large cities, as it already does in Germany, Canada, Norway and so forth. O2 Engineers will be looking at hand-off between cells and data consumption rates, though with few handsets and only 1,000 users - not to mention 25 cells - it's still a small trial even if it is happening in a big city. ®

*In a breathless press release O2 explains that "the UK's first 4G London trial" will run nine months, until June 2012. But what's a few weeks between friends?

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