Finnish mobile data operator Ukko Networks might be a small company, but it has no problems setting ambitious goals. In January, the year-old startup set both a new European 4G download speed record and announced plans to launch the fastest mobile network in Europe.
The record speed, 507Mbps of peak throughput, was achieved in Ukko Networks lab in Helsinki in an LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) TDD demonstration. Currently the fastest commercial LTE-A networks (the next generation of 4G) achieve theoretical maximum download speeds of up to 225Mbps to 300 Mbps.
In the trial Ukko Networks (known as Ukkoverkot in its native Finland) used a carrier aggregated channel bandwidth of 2x20MHz in the 2.6GHz spectrum band using 4x4 MIMO radios. Carrier aggregation allows a device to receive multiple different 4G signals simultaneously to deliver the high data rates required for LTE-A. The record speed was achieved with currently non-commercial test devices.
Also playing a significant part in the tests is Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which supplied the base station infrastructure and is a strategic partner of the Finnish operator.
In a global context, Ukko's record still falls short of the theoretical record speed of 4.1Gbps that fellow Finnish company Nokia Networks achieved in December in partnership with carriers Ooredoo Qatar and China Mobile.
However, these theoretical top speeds are far from those achievable in real-world use. Why? Because in real-world scenarios thousands of handsets share the same bandwidth. By comparison in October, EE rolled out its LTE-A network in London which offers potential download speeds of up to 90Mbps and bursts of up to 150Mbps while the current average UK 4G download speed in the UK is just 15.1Mbps.
The fastest LTE network in Europe
Consequently and arguably more exciting is Ukko Networks second record attempt. In November the company launched its LTE 4G network covering 99.9 percent of Finland and claimed to be the first commercial LTE 450MHz network implementation in the world (using the lower frequency spectrum extends signal range). Now it's looking at the opposite end of the scale, rolling out what it hopes will be the fastest mobile network in Europe using the 2.6GHz frequency band.
"Theoretically we are capable of providing download speeds of 507 Mbps with the 2x20MHz channel bandwidth. However, in the commercial setup, the maximum available downlink speed may in good conditions exceed 300 Mbps," said Antti Pellinen, CEO of Ukko Networks.
"When thinking of the actual maximum speeds, the limiting factor is the current terminal capabilities that only support speeds up to 300Mbps."
Pellinen is referring to the current maximum of Category 6 antennas (often shortened to Cat 6) fitted in the latest Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Motorola Nexus 6. It is worse for Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus which use Cat 4 (150Mbps) antennas, though Cat 9 (450Mbps) smartphones will appear this year.
As for availability of Ukko's 2.6GHz network, it will launch in parts of Finland during the second quarter of 2015. Like the long-range 450MHz network, it will be for data only with no cellular call or text messaging available and target Ukko's primarily B2B customer base, including government authorities, emergency services, and businesses.
"The likely model is to have islands of 2.6GHz coverage for customer specific cases and also supporting the LTE 450 network. Good examples of the customer cases are 'last mile' solutions, limited coverage areas like cargo terminals and industrial sites, and small city networks. The 2.6GHz range is very limited, eg 1km to 5km, compared to LTE 450," said Pellinen.
This combination means that the 450MHz network covers virtually the whole of Finland and the 2.6GHz network offers peak speeds to focused areas where demand is high - an ideal one-two punch. After that, Ukko will begin thinking globally.
"We are naturally concentrating in getting our Finnish operations optimised first, but are also looking at growth opportunities outside Finland. We have got good experiences on the 450MHz band and are interested in expanding this approach to elsewhere," Pellinen concluded.
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