O2 Claims LTE Trial Success In Slough

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Test LTE network could sort out the UK’s mobile broadband ‘capacity crunch’, says O2

O2 has boasted that its small LTE trial in Slough is capable of handling the same volume of mobile traffic as its entire 3G network in the United Kingdom.

In a blog posting, O2’s UK chief operating officer Derek McManus, expanded on the promise of LTE and what it means for mobile phone networks in the future. The blog posting revealed that O2’s mini network of six cell sites is already capable of handling the same volume of traffic of O2’s entire 3G network in the UK.

“That’s six next generation cells capable of doing the work of thousands of current generation cells. The scale is simply enormous,” said the blog. McManus also revealed that he had recently watched Monsters Vs Aliens in high definition on his laptop, streamed over the 4G network.

Long Term Trial

O2’s LTE (Long Term Evolution) trial has been ongoing for a while now. The operator revealed in December 2009 that it was testing LTE in Slough (its UK headquarters) in partnership with Huawei.

It claimed at that time that it had measured a cell peak downlink rate of 150Mbps during the trial. In comparison, 3G networks today are capable of supplying about 10 to 15 Mbps to a mobile device.

O2 made that announcement shortly after promising that it would overhaul its criticised mobile network, by spending millions in order to give it ‘significant headroom for mobile data’.

4G technologies such as WiMAX and LTE are considered vital technologies considering the state of mobile broadband in the UK today, with mobile networks facing “data overload. This was shown in December 2009, when O2’s network in London suffered a number of embarrassing network failures, which it blamed on the data strain from the increasing use of smartphones.

To be fair, most mobile operators are facing similar problems caused by the increasing use of “data hungry” smartphones. Indeed, all operators have dropped their “unlimited data plans” for example – except 3UK.

O2’s McManus admitted in the blog posting that the change in smartphone usage and user behaviour was one of the biggest challenges that the mobile industry didn’t see coming.

“Catching the entire industry off guard, the challenge has been on for some time to deliver high quality mobile broadband at equivalent speeds people are used to at home. All the while, maintaining not one (3G) but two existing networks (3G and 2G), serving 22 million customers,” said the blog.

Question of Economics

A survey in June last year revealed end users’ widespread dissatisfaction with the mobile broadband experience in the UK. Mobile broadband price comparison site, Broadband Expert, revealed there had been a 57 percent drop in the number of people it helped sign up for mobile broadband in the last twelve months. Moreover, it said that sales had crashed by over 50 percent year-on-year.

But while LTE and WiMAX look to ease this capacity crunch by delivering much greater capacity, some analysts are warning that upgrading the UK’s mobile networks to LTE (Long Term Evolution) will not be economically viable until 2015.

The UK communications regulator meanwhile had already revealed that its long-awaited auction of licences for “4G” mobile spectrum will take place in 2012.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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