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UK's first 4G network just switched on - and it's not from EE

Southwark, Reading and Swindon leapfrog rest of Blighty

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While EE's 4G mobile network won't be switched on until the end of October, Blighty's other 4G network went live over the weekend.

ISP UK Broadband uses 4G LTE to beam high-speed internet connectivity wirelessly to homes and offices. However its coverage is limited to Southwark, Reading and Swindon, so the plan is to compete with ADSL by offering fixed access with speeds up to 40Mb/sec over the 3.5GHz band to which UK Broadband has a national licence. Prices start at £21.50 a month for those prepared to commit to two years of connectivity.

UK Broadband switched on the network back in February, making it the UK's first 4G network by a long shot and forcing EE into some linguistic shenanigans in its bid to claim its place as a 4G pioneer. Realistically EE will be the first 4G network as most people recognise it; connecting to mobile telephones, while UK Broadband is about wireless internet access for punters and businesses.

And the company has been pursuing that idea for a very long time, announcing the offering back in 2007 under the brand Freedom4 and using WiMAX technology, but over the same radio spectrum now being used for LTE. That spectrum was bought by UK Broadband's parent, PCCW, back in 2004, and has been sitting empty ever since.

Wireless broadband has never been able to compete with ADSL as BT's copper has always been the cheapest option and fast enough for most users. So pervasive is BT's infrastructure that the Community Broadband Network recommends against villages using wireless as it just proves the market and prompts BT to upgrade the exchange to faster technology, instantly undercutting the wireless operation.

The only alternative, for a village, is to deploy fibre to the home, but that's expensive even if one digs one's own trenches, and so BT generally wins in the end.

This time around the plan is to compete directly with copper - offering greater speeds at prices comparable to ADSL, especially if one remembers that no line rental will be needed. The licensed band should offer reliable connectivity, and when we tried it back in April it was sustaining the headline speeds while driving about Southwark, so is certainly a viable alternative for fixed access.

Back in April the company was clearly hoping to wholesale access to resellers and enterprises, with sales to the public just one option on the table. Those sales are now in full flow, with a postcode checker and everything, but it would be brave soul who signed up for two years of access right now. ®

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