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Virgin Media Trials 90Mbps 4G Small Cell Mobile Broadband in 2 UK Cities

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 (1:51 pm) - Score 957

Cable operator Virgin Media Business claims to have “successfully trialled … LTE-readysmall cell based Mobile Broadband technology in Newcastle and Bristol (England), which delivered internet speeds that were “three times faster than current 3G networks” (i.e. up to 90 Megabits per second).

According to Virgin, small cells are apparently able to deliver “faster and more robust internet connections” than existing 3G or WiFi technology, both inside buildings and outside in public spaces, and could potentially offer an answer to the “rapidly accelerating demand” for mobile broadband in urban areas.

Indeed this is something that Virgin have been exploring since last year (here) and could potentially be fed by the operators existing fixed line broadband network.

Kevin Baughan, Director of Wireless at VMB, said:

We’re incredibly excited to be at the very forefront of small cell radio access network trials. In the future, cities will demand even faster connectivity and with mobile broadband set for explosive growth, small cells are offering a way forward that will rise to the challenge of superfast connectivity on the move.

Just recently we gave the public a vision of the future, where ubiquitous high-speed connectivity enables incredible technology such as 3D printing in your home and crowdsourcing on a massive scale. Generation IP gave a glimpse into a bigger, better and more connected future for Britain’s towns and cities. With these successful trials we’re a step closer to that future.”

Virgin admits that it’s still in the early stages of understanding what small cells, which could easily be mounted on street lights or at similar locations, can do. Meanwhile BTOpenreach has this week proposed to use a similar technology for expanding mobile coverage into digital isolated rural areas (here).

So far neither operator has made any firm commitments to offer a commercial solution.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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16 Responses
  1. Avatar Kyle says:

    More operators need to offer femtocells to customers who don’t live in houses with walls as thin as Dairylea slices!

  2. Avatar zemadeiran says:


    Virgin are grasping at straws and shitting their pants just like BT.

    Where is their 4G license? Yes of course they can back haul the traffic from small/femto cells but they still need to partner with a mobile telecoms network.

    If I were a mobile firm I would put the thumb screws on virgin and BT as they have no cards to play at this point and 4G will seriously **** them both.

    I should know, I have felt the pleasure 🙂

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I think 4G is over rated , it certainly has its place but for those that think it will totally replace fix line broadband well I that is a very long way off if ever.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Something like 6% of the UK (last Ofcom figures I can recall) have already gone down the mobile broadband and mobile phone only path. I’m not sure if mobile-only is the future or not for the UK market but you’re right, if it is then we’ll be waiting for a fair few years before the tipping point arrives.

    3. Avatar dragoneast says:

      And remind me: have all those “health scares” been finally and completely laid to rest yet? Or are the studies still on-going?

    4. Avatar DTMark says:

      Some people round here are concerned about the possible health risks from a Wi-Fi transmitter, the most likely solution for our broadband.

      I can’t find any decent research one way or the other on this.

      Mind you the last concerned person I was speaking to got a phone call and put their mobile up to their ear to take it. Which seems a litle ironic. Half an hour on one of those and I can feel the side of my head warm up, an hour and I can get headaches and feel very odd.

      On the one hand, if there isn’t some very specific research which says that these types of transmission do *not* damage health then I’d like to err on the side of caution and push for FTTP instead.

      Except that if we took that approach we probably would never have had mobile phones become as popular as they are. Tough one perhaps though I don’t pretend to understand enough about it all.

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Yeah I’m not even thinking about scaremongery to be honest and I can totally understand people giving up landlines for mobile only , but I’m talking about Internet access really.

      I see the future as you have a fibre “pipe” delivered to your home. And down that fibre you get voice, hd video (multiple streams), internet browsing/gaming/access to your data using cloud storage, internet doctor etc etc

      All of that will need a lot of bandwidth and QoS and I just don’t think anything wireless will cut it

  3. Avatar NilSatisOptimum says:

    The sector i work in many of my clients are dropping fixed line services altogether especially in the last 18 months, mobile etc as it now, is better alternative for them.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      What you might call “power users” – e.g. self employed consultants like me – have never been served with anything useful over the phone network and have had to move from cabled area to cabled area over the years.

      We now do live in a non cabled area, but use HSPA/3G and that delivers speeds which aren’t that useful for me (6 to 12 Meg down, 2 to 3 Meg up) but it’s the best there is here by a very long way and therefore has to suffice.

      But it streams HDTV (usually). It does VOIP. It supplies the TV, two mobiles, a PC and a laptop. Though to be fair, not very well all at the same time. But that’s only 3G. We’re very lucky really (cough) to get such a “good” 3G service.

      But that service would be more than adequate for most. The “non power users”. Think of students. 4G dongle at uni. Finish that, get your own place. You’ve never had a landline, why would you? And why would you have one now? Phones are mobiles now. Social media all integrated.

      The main reason is “to get broadband”. The main problem with mobile “broadband” is congestion with such low bandwidth to offer up, same with ADSL though not congestion, just a dire network.

      I expect 4G to outperform ADSL. What will be interesting is how it compares to FTTC. Is it worth having a landline and FTTC for that second group of people? Will depend, I bet, on what 4G costs and if the operators are smart with the kit so it really is a straight-swap landline replacement.

  4. Avatar Deduction says:

    Mobile (and by that i mean a non-fixed line/wire free internet solution) is going to be the future. Not saying its the now or 4G is it, but mobile be it for calls or internet is the only sector that continues to grow at a decent rate.

    Go back 15 years and compared to today not many had a mobile phone and none had proper internet on them. Even just 5-10 years ago mobile internet was pretty dire.

    We are getting to the stage now where mobile/wifi internet is a viable alternative. Fast forward another 10 years and i would not be shocked if its the new market leader or at least equal terms with fixed line internet.

    There are simply so many devices now which rely on some type of mobile connectivity be it your common mobile phone, tablet/slate computers or even portable gaming. (ipads and sony vitas as examples).

    Its gonna happen, not a question of if, but when. 4G will easily outperform ADSL, and if you are lucky in some areas keep pace with FTTC. In some areas of the globe its actually better than fixed line alternatives……. Just imagine where the tech will be in another 10 years.

    I fully expect to be completely fixed line free within 10 years, there will be no need to pay silly line rental, but you will still get just as good a product.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      One additional dynamic is that home ownership in the UK is in decline, and renting on the increase which I suspect will continue. People will be moving a lot more frequently – watch as more and more “storage space units” spring up like in the US. The “take it with you” option is quite attractive.

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      You personally expect to be fixed line free in 10yrs or everyone?

    3. Avatar Deduction says:

      Re-read paragraphs 3 and 6. Answers your 2 part question.

  5. Avatar dragoneast says:

    I understand these arguments, but there are a few things I’m unclear about: How does even 4G mobile get over contention and topography, as well as the economics of backhaul in rural areas? When areas have no 2G or no 3G service, how do they suddenly become viable for 4G services? I’m all in favour of letting the market get on with it, so why aren’t we just doing that with the confidence people have on here that 4G will deliver, instead of throwing BDUK and DEFRA money around like confetti? Got slow internet – wait ’til 4G comes to you. Nice ‘n easy, job done!

    1. Avatar zemadeiran says:

      No one here has mentioned magic cells of 4G suddenly popping up all over the gaff….

      Most of the people posting on ispreview are well aware of the back haul issue’s.

      In regards to performance, please do search for one of my previous posts which outlines my experience with 4G in Portugal.

    2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      PC Magazine has recently benchmarked 4G performance across around 30 US cities, gives a good idea of real-world performance. It’s certainly competitive with ADSL, but comes nowhere near the sort of download and upload speeds you get with FTTC, let alone FTTP.

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