20/06/2011

UK Broadband to offer LTE/4G services as early as 2012

UK Broadband (a subsiduary of Hong Kong based PCCW who are owned by the same people that run Hutchison Wampoa who own 3 in the UK) have announced that they will be rolling out an LTE (Long Term Evolution) or 4G network this year and it will be ready for use by next year.

UK Broadband recently acquired Pipex Wireless so now they own a large chunk of spectrum in the 3.5 and 3.6GHz bands. Initially, both UK Broadband and Pipex Wireles, were offering WiMAX based networks but the current trend is for LTE as mobile networks will support this as their 4G systems (effectively killing off WiMAX, at least in Europe).

The aim is to offer MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) services i.e. wholesale mobile services to other operators such as Virgin Mobile (who is already an MVNO of T-Mobile). LTE will support both voice and data, though it's the high speed data services that will be attractive to operators especially if they can off-load data from the existing 3G networks which are suffering capacity issues.

It's not all going to be plain sailing as mobile phones only look in certain bands (currently 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2.1GHz and 2.6GHz for EU GSM/3G) though 850 / 900 MHz is used in the Americas, so UK Broadband or PCCW will have to persuade handset manufacturers to support the 3.5/3.6GHz bands which is likely to be difficult, though specific LTE data equipment could be another option (as in a 4G dongle).

Ofcom were meant to be auctioning the 800MHz analogue TV spectrum next year and the 2.6GHz IMT-2000 reserved band, both being suitable for LTE services, unfortunately BT and O2/Telefonica have now challenged Ofcom's decision to cap the sub 1GHz spectrum available to any network and this may cause further delays in both the auction and actual availability of the spectrum which was neant to be made available after the 2012 London Olympics.
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