Everything Everywhere has said results from its ongoing 4G trial in Cornwall show the mobile operator is on the right track to provide high-speed internet to people in rural areas without the need for fixed-line connections.
The company has been conducting the trial in collaboration with BT since the end of September in St Newlyn East and the surrounding areas of south Newquay. The site of the trial was chosen to see how well suited the 800MHz spectrum band is to providing 4G LTE connectivity over varying terrain in a rural setting. Some of the network infrastructure was provided by Huawei.
"This is the world's first live 4G multi-operator environment, which is very important as it enables us to drive economic capability to connect the rural side of the country to broadband," Olaf Swantee, chief executive of Everything Everywhere, said at a demonstration event on Monday.
"The first objective was to see how we could find solutions to help the government reach out and connect the last 10 percent of the population [by] 2015. We're very, very confident with the results that we have seen that we can do this," he added.
Ofcom gave the company permission to use 10MHz of the 800MHz band for the trial, which will end in January 2012. The trial is using two masts and BT's fibre-connected cabinets as backhaul.
BT and Everything Everywhere demonstrated the capacity of the network, running several speed tests that returned results between 4Mbps and 21Mbps. Ping times, which are important for things like online gaming, were between 30ms and 70ms.
The companies said they were surprised by the number of devices users were connecting to each router, which in some cases included up to 10 devices.
The image above shows the 4G connection in use under live network conditions — meaning the trial participants were still using the services as normal — to download a file (top left), upload a file (top right), stream a video online and use Google Maps (bottom right).
Around 180 people have been taking part in the trial, and each has been given a 4G-enabled home hub or a 4G dongle for accessing the high-speed network. Everything Everywhere deliberately did not include mobile devices in the trials.
In some instances, people taking part in the trial were also given an external aerial to boost reception for the home hub. This included people living on the edge of the trial area.
The home hub routers also have 'bunny ears' (the white strips pictured at the rear) which significantly increase the strength of reception, Everything Everywhere noted.
The 4G dongle looks very similar to a standard Wi-Fi dongle and has been provided by Huawei for the trial. It has a microSD expansion slot, which means it can also be used as a USB storage key.
The companies could not say how much the high-speed mobile broadband service will cost consumers when it eventually makes it to market. However, they said the price is expected to be "comparable" with the monthly cost of fixed-line broadband.
They also declined to put a figure on the data allowance in the package, but again said it would be comparable to existing services.
Everything Everywhere would not reveal how much data is being used on average by participants in the trial.
The 800MHz band was previously reserved for use by analogue TV. As the switch-over to digital TV has already been completed in Cornwall, the companies were allowed to use the spectrum temporarily to test the 4G services.
Unsurprisingly given its previous use for transmitting television content, the signal-boosting aerials that have been fitted in some local communal areas and on participants' homes look very similar to a traditional TV aerial. Everything Everywhere said only 13 percent of participants needed the external aerial to receive a signal, which was a lower number than it had anticipated due to the fluctuating terrain.
Owing to repeated delays to the 4G spectrum auction — needed to allocate available spectrum fairly between the major mobile operators — it is unlikely that 4G services will be available to consumers in the UK before 2014.
On Tuesday, Ofcom chief Ed Richards accused operators of 'gaming the system' and warned that the government could take back regulatory powers if perpetual threats of litigation lingered over the upcoming auction.
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