EE's not-spot-busting small cell trial delights Cumbrian villagers

What’s the opposite of a NIMBY?

Not quite full throttle – but anything's good from a standing start

The prototype EE system uses the Parallel Wireless box to give 4G coverage, with a Nokia outdoor 3G femtocell attached. Unfortunately this doesn’t have hand-off on the 3G, but a Cisco gateway will be rolled out for the commercial systems to give full coverage.

One of the many visions for the 5G future is Heterogeneous Networks, or HetNets, where all the high speed data traffic is carried by vast numbers of small cells while the network control is carried by big over-arching cells. EE is now rolling out HetNets.

The initial deployment is all at 1800MHz, where EE has 35MHz of spectrum, providing 4G and mesh backhaul, but there is an expectation that 800MHz will be added for range and 2600MHz for efficiency. While the devices use software-defined radio, the amplifier needs to be changed for the new frequencies and EE has chosen to use dedicated antennas rather than multi-band units so those need changing too.

While in theory the system could be built to give the rural area a full 20MHz, which would equate to 150Mb/sec, what is actually being delivered is a solid and stable 7 to 8 Mb/sec. To an area which has had nothing before it’s a solid improvement. The move to 800MHz, along with intelligent algorithms, should see this increase to 25Mb/sec.

Given the lower penetration of 4G devices in rural areas, something EE is in the process of measuring, there won’t be too much pressure on their networks just yet.

You might think that EE would cite this as an example of why networks would not want to invest in developing new systems and debugging them to then be forced to hand over the keys as part of a National Roaming initiative. EE wouldn’t be drawn on this but CEO Olaf Swantee did say: “We’ve been working closely with Government on the long-term ambition to bring voice coverage to more of the UK, and we believe that this world-first technology will demonstrate significant advancements against that vision.”

It’s gone down well in Cumbria. Councillor Duncan Fairbairn said: “We’re delighted to be the first community in the UK to benefit from this EE initiative, and there are more villages in my parish that I know will benefit hugely from this, and they’re excited to be connected next.”

The project still has the overtones of being an exciting experiment and not quite ready for prime time. There are plans for where the technology will be rolled out next, but in 2015 EE will set up a website where communities can make their case as to why they should be next on the list. ®

Official EE promo video for the rollout

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