O2 has begun a trial of the 4G mobile broadband technology LTE in London, the operator said on Monday.
The nine-month pilot, which will run from now until summer 2012, will cover areas of dense usage including Kings Cross, Canary
Wharf, Soho, Westminster and the South Bank. It will involve more than
25 base stations, and will make O2 the first operator to conduct a
live trial of LTE in a major British city.
"Today's launch of the UK's first 4G London trial network
demonstrates our commitment to delivering 4G to our customers at the
earliest opportunity," O2 UK chief Ronan Dunne said in a statement.
"The work we are doing now will lay the foundations for our commercial
4G network when it launches in the UK."
LTE did not originally qualify as 4G, unlike its successor LTE Advanced, which meets the criteria of offering a real-world 100Mbps downlink speeds while the user is moving. LTE only achieves around 50Mbps, and does still not fully work in motion.
However, the ITU said in December last year that LTE, WiMax and "other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third-generation systems now deployed" could permissably be marketed as 4G.
Participants in the trial will use Samsung B3730 mobile broadband
dongles, which theoretically support speeds of up to 100Mbps, as well
as handsets and portable hotspots. The 2.6GHz spectrum being used is
capable of supporting fibre-beating speeds of up to 150Mbps, with the
LTE's performance improvement over 3G should allow people using the
technology to run high-quality videocalls and high-definition TV off
their connection. Those taking part in the 40-square-kilometre test
include some small businesses, John Lewis department store staff and
members of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). People
visiting The O2 Arena music venue in the Docklands will also get to
test it out.
The O2 trial will use radio and core networking equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks, which is also providing gear for backhaul alongside Cambridge Broadband Networks and NEC.
O2's is not the first live trial of LTE in the UK. Rival operator
Everywhere joined BT in a real-world test of the technology in
October, although that trial is in the relatively low-density
environment of Cornwall.
Those examining how wireless technologies such as LTE operate in
real life need to test it in a variety of situations. In the
countryside, LTE will offer the advantage of propagating over long
In dense urban environments, the technology will be more useful for
its ability to penetrate into buildings and support large numbers of
users, due to its relatively high bandwidth. The urban test will tell
O2 how best to deploy LTE in London's geography, taking into account
the city's building types.
O2 had already done some urban tests
in Slough, but these did not involve the public and were on
nowhere near the same scale as the London trial.
The trial will also help the operator get ready for when the 4G
spectrum auction finally rolls around. Once
scheduled for September 2008, squabbling by various operators
including O2 has led to repeated delays, and the spectrum needed to
run public LTE services will now only go under the hammer towards
the end of 2012 at the earliest.
The four-year delay has extended the lag between the UK and other countries around the world that have already deployed 4G, such as the US, Germany and Australia. A study by the policy organisation Open Digital, published in October, suggested that UK businesses are losing out on more than £730m a year in productivity gains due to the delayed rollout.