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UPDATE Technical Woes Hit BT’s UK Consumer 4G Mobile and WiFi Plan

Monday, October 6th, 2014 (8:20 am) - Score 1,183
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BT has denied that its plans to launch a new consumer focused 4G mobile service, which will also harness the capabilities of their existing WiFi hotspots, are at risk of delay due to a series of technical challenges with getting the new network to function properly.

The operators ambition first became clear in 2012 after BT bid (using the name ‘Niche Spectrum Ventures Ltd.’) and ultimately won a slice of the 2.6GHz radio spectrum for 4G (LTE) based mobile services, which cost them a little over £200m to acquire through Ofcom’s much delayed auction process (here).

At the time BT stated that the spectrum would be used to “provide its business and consumer customers with an enhanced range of mobile broadband services” and should build on their “existing strength in Wi-Fi“. BT elaborated that it didn’t intend to build its own national mobile network, but that they would use the spectrum to “complement our existing strategy of delivering a range of services using fixed and wireless broadband“.

After that the trail went silent until BT announced this year that it was establishing a new Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) platform with EE, which would replace their old MVNO partner Vodafone (here). As part of the announcement BT reiterated that had a strong public WiFi division, which it apparently “plans to build on” with the deal.

The approach BT has chosen is a complex one. The operator already has 5 million WiFi hotspots across the United Kingdom, although most are non-premium services and delivered via the FON (wifi sharing) equipped HomeHub routers of their existing fixed line broadband customers. The FON technology allows part of the fixed broadband subscribers bandwidth to be shared out for use as a mini public WiFi hotspot (access to this is free to existing subscribers, but others have to pay).

This network is handy because BT’s future plan is to hand off as much voice and data traffic as possible from their new consumer mobile service and have it carried over their WiFi / fixed line network instead of EE’s, which would save money. The 2.6GHz spectrum might help with this interlink, as well as boosting their own mobile network more directly, yet it could also run into interference problems with other nearby BT hotspots using the same approach.

But a report in Sunday’s Telegraph claims that BT has hit technical problems with the handover process between 4G and WiFi, which the operator has always acknowledged to be a very challenging aspect. The inter-connectivity needs to be seamless, otherwise it damages the end-user experience and puts the traffic back onto EE’s mobile network (expensive).

A source informed the paper that the difficulties of getting this element right meant “it’s possible the launch will slip into the second quarter of next year now“, although it’s important to stress that the last official timeline we had from BT indicated that their consumer 4G mobile solution would surface from April 2015 and that’s already into the Q2-2015 period. Officially BT still insists the service is on-track.

Meanwhile the precise details of BT’s actual plan are still somewhat unclear, which makes it challenging to write about.

UPDATE 12:57pm

A spokesperson for BT told ISPreview.co.uk, “We have always been very clear that it will take the best part of two years to develop our Consumer femtocell service and this remains the case.”

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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.
Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. Avatar DTMark

    Isn’t this going to require some special network-locked BT-specific mobile handsets?

    Is there really a proposal to offer a ‘4G-style’ service using left-over fractions of bandwidth from already really slow connections?

    What happens if I’m in the middle of a call latched to the Wi-Fi of some stranger and they turn the modem off?

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