Half of Norway gets LTE as Telenor promises to take on in-building gremlins

Thanks to its recent spectrum wins, Telenor is planning to boost indoor coverage as it builds out its 4G coverage.
Written by Stig Øyvann, Contributor

Telenor announced today that its 4G service now has passed a major coverage milestone: 100 municipalities are now covered by its Norwegian LTE network.

While that's less than one-quarter of Norway's total 428 municipalities, Telenor's 4G does now cover one half of the country's population. 

Speedy deployments

It's been a busy year for the Norwegian telco. The company announced this week that it had rolled out 2,300 4G base stations in 2013, with the tail end of the year seeing the fastest pace of deployment: over 600 went live in the course of November and December.

Telenor now has 500,000 active 4G customers, and nearly all of the company's sales of new smartphones are 4G compatible devices.

"2013 has been the busiest year ever for Telenor Norway, with regards to network rollout," Bjørn Amundsen, director of coverage at Telenor, told ZDNet.

Alongside its 4G network expansion, Telenor also has been building out its 3G network infrastructure.

"Seven out of ten 3G base stations in Norway was upgraded to a theoretical maximum bitrate of 42Mbps during 2013," he said, which could represent a doubling or quadrupling of the bitrate depending on the base station in question. The 42Mbps will translate to an average real-world download speed of around 15Mbps or 16Mbps.

Telenor reckons its 3G network now covers around 95 percent of country by population.

More improvements in 2014

The upgrades come ahead of Telenor starting to make use of the spectrum it acquired in Norway's 4G-compatible spectrum auction earlier this month.

Telenor landed spectrum in all-important 800Mhz and 900MHz bands, which provide better propagation — that is, can cover greater areas with less infrastructure — as well as frequencies in the 1800MHz band, which offers more capacity and better in-building coverage.

The spectrum licences come into effect early next year.

 "We plan to start [using] 4G in the 800MHz band on about 1,000 base stations, starting early 2014," Amundsen said. The rollout will continue for the following few months.

Telenor is also currently evaluating building out 4G coverage using the 800MHz spectrum, but as no decisions have been made yet, Amundsen declined to reveal how many more 4G base stations using the spectrum could come online n 2014. "We will announce this in early 2014, when our evaluations are complete," he said.

Indoor coverage

Using 800Mhz spectrum should also help Telenor improve in-building mobile reception.

Indoor coverage has been an issue for the Norwegian mobile market this year, after several new office buildings demonstrated that modern construction techniques and materials can mean the structures act as veritable Faraday cages, meaning users can struggle to get a mobile signal inside them.

The problem arises when a lot of steel is used in the building's construction, as well as when windows are covered with a thin foil layer to blocks summer's heat — a measure that can also block radio waves.

"We have chosen to employ the 800MHz frequencies also in the larger cities," Amundsen said. "This will improve indoor 4G mobile data communications significantly," he added.

This will apply to data communications only, as voice communications will continue to use the 3G network. Consequently, users should get 4G data speeds closer to Telenor's theoretical maximum of 100Mbps, rather than the 42Mbps theoretical maximum with 3G.

"The coverage of 4G in these cities will be comparable with our 2G network's coverage," Amundsen concluded.

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