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Virgin Media Carries Out 4G Trial in Oxford Street

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Virgin Media could bid for spectrum in 4G auction following private tests in the heart of London’s West End

Virgin Media has carried out private tests of next-generation mobile services using spectrum borrowed from Ofcom under a trial license, according to The Financial Times.

The trial, which took place in Oxford Street in London, has led to speculation that it could bid for spectrum in the much-delayed auction of 4G frequencies later this year.

Ease the strain

Reports suggest that Virgin Media is considering the launch of a nationwide wireless network using small transmitters similar to Wi-Fi, linked to its fibre network that can broadcast mobile services. The technology being tested allows for high speed mobile data services which are about six times faster than current 3G networks.

Analysts say that the small cell technology, which has already been tested by Vodafone in rural areas, could help meet the demands of smartphone users, whose desire for data-intensive activities such as streaming video and audio has placed mobile networks under strain.

It works similarly to Wi-Fi by providing signals linked to fixed line connections, but covers a wider area of up to several hundred metres. However, unlike Wi-Fi, it needs licensed spectrum, which means that Virgin Media could bid for some the less valuable, shorter range 2.6GHz spectrum up for grabs during the 4G auction.

The FT has also reported that Virgin Media is in talks with mobile networks to borrow spectrum from them, possible in exchange for access to its fibre network. In practice, this could mean masts placed at regular intervals in city centres to assist with demand for data.

Last month, Virgin Media told TechWeekEurope that it had no plans to imminently roll out femtocell technology to help with increasing demand; in August it was reportedly considering rolling out a free Wi-Fi network in London in order to compete with its rival BT’s Openzone hotspot service.

Ofcom recently revealed its revised proposals for the 4G auction ahead of a second consultation which has postponed the perpetually delayed process even further, leading to warnings that 4G services may not be available in the UK for another four years.