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O2 declares 4G trial success... with 1000 users

Rhetoric ramp-up ahead of Ofcom auction

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London is switching off analogue TV today, so O2 is crowing about how marvellously its 4G trials have gone, despite the two things being at opposite ends of the spectrum.

O2's LTE trial involves 25 base stations, a couple down in Docklands to cover the O2 Arena (aka The Millennium Dome) and the rest covering most of the West End, but the 1,000 triallists have apparently been enjoying breakneck speeds and infinitesimal latency, which makes one wonder why O2 wants any of the old analogue TV spectrum at all.

The trial has been running at 2.6GHz, the "3G Expansion" band which was supposed to be on the market years ago but got delayed by lengthy legal shenanigans on the part of T-Mobile and O2. That band will now get auctioned off with the analogue TV frequencies vacated by today's turn-off, which are around 800MHz, allowing O2 to draw the two things together:

"The UK-wide digital switch-over reaches completion today, with many areas of the UK already fully digital and London being the final region to undergo the changes," says the surprisingly inaccurate press release from O2. London's switch involves a fifth of TV viewers, but Northern Ireland will be the last analogue hold-out as it won't go digital until October, and Tyne Tees won't switch until September – but those are both north of Watford so don't really count.

"Switching over the UK's analogue TV signal and replacing it with a digital signal will free up the airwaves to make way for super fast internet access, known as 4G ... O2 has been running the first and largest urban 4G network trial in the UK since December 2011," continues O2, failing to find space to mention that its own trials aren't within those bands.

But this is nit-picking. The O2 trials weren't about seeing what headline speed could be achieved (150Mb/sec, but don’t expect to ever see that for real) or how fast documents could be downloaded (40MB in "a matter of seconds" apparently), the test was really about how to integrate a third network into O2's back end. It was also intended to test customer authentication and cell handoff on the LTE network, in conjunction with the existing 2G and 3G technologies, and we understand that has (more importantly) gone well. Next up will be handing off between networks, with the test infrastructure remaining in place.

In theory we should all be able to get 4G from next year, but the rhetoric around the 4G auction is ramping up ahead of Ofcom's response to feedback on its second set of auction proposals. Both Three and Vodafone have made it clear that they will go to court if they feel short-changed, while Ofcom has told us unequivocally that it is not in the business of appeasing the operators and will fight to get the spectrum onto the market on time.

So unless you're one of the lucky thousand on the O2 trial, and spend most of your time in the West End with occasional jaunts to Docklands, then best sit back and grab some popcorn. ®

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