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EE Prepare First Live UK Trial of 5G Wireless Broadband in London

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 1,731

Mobile operator EE has today announced that it will switch on the “UK’s first” live trial of their new prototype 5G based ultrafast wireless broadband network at 10 sites around London’s Tech City area during October 2018, including five small businesses and five homes. Gigabit speeds are predicted.

Apparently some of the local areas that will see the new service include City Road, Old Street, Hoxton Square and Chiswell Street. Meanwhile EE intends to use their social media channels in order to find the first willing 5G trialists to support their test of the new technology.

The announcement comes shortly after BT’s Group CEO, Gavin Patterson, promised that EE would “lead the market to 5G” by “looking to have a commercial product launched within the next 18 months” (i.e. by the end of 2019). Rival O2 UK recently suggested that this would only be a “lite version of 5G” without key features, although EE has since defended their plan (here).

Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer Business, said:

“This live trial is a big step forward in making the benefits of 5G a reality for our customers, and in making sure that the UK is at the front of the pack for 5G technology. We’re focusing our resource and experience across EE and BT to ensure that we continue to lead the UK market with a mobile network that keeps giving our customers the best speeds and the best coverage. 5G is a fundamental part of our work to build a converged, smart network that keeps our customers connected to the things that matter most.”

Margot James MP, UK Minister for Digital, said:

“We want the UK to be a global leader in 5G as part of our ambition to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone. Together with the Government’s own test beds and trials programme, industry initiatives like this will help deliver the benefits of this new revolutionary technology to businesses and consumers across the UK.”

Sadly the press release doesn’t include any solid information about what flavour of 5G and performance we can expect. The official specification for the technology has often highlighted its potential for peak shared capacity speeds of 20Gbps (Gigabits per second), although initial deployments will not get anywhere close to that level (mobile technology usually takes a few years to reach its target performance).

However the fact that EE will target premises, rather than people, confirms that they’re trialling a Fixed Wireless Broadband ISP style connection instead of a solution for the mobile environment, which would be in keeping with other early trials. Part of the reason for that is because you can’t actually buy a 5G capable Smartphone in the shops yet, which may not change until 2019.

We can also confirm that EE will adopt a 3.5GHz (spectrum band) based setup for the trial (not the recently acquired 3.4GHz band), which is the same as they’ve used in lab tests before. Earlier tests in this band have shown that such a setup, when combined with 64×64 MIMO and plenty of spectrum frequency (100MHz), could achieve a wireless broadband speed of 2.8Gbps (and sub-5ms latency) over short distances.

Since this is a live test then we can speculate that a target speed of around 1Gbps might be a more realistic prediction, which is the same sort of performance as you’d get from many Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) providers and it’s unlikely that any of those on the residential side could take full advantage of that. This is all probably going to be based off the 3GPP Release 15 Option 3 standard.

Meanwhile Three UK has said “we will start doing 5G trials in early 2019.”

Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris P says:

    What will OFCOM say if BT are able achieve FTTP speeds using 5G?

    Will they insist on more fibre if another technology is able to provide the same service but cheaper?

    Fibre backhaul for 5G is not the same challenge as fttp and would be far easier for ISP’s to provision.

    1. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      They would be foolish not to consider it. If they don’t it will become embarrassing for both the BTUK and USO investments.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I don’t think Ofcom would be a factor, yet. 4G and WiFi style solutions can also be used for fixed wireless links, which in some areas are able to deliver ultrafast broadband speeds, and 5G has long been envisaged as a potential challenger or complement to FTTH (although it will still need to be fed by fibre).

      As ever with mobile the issue isn’t just one of speed but also service cost, reliability and flexibility. Before 5G can be taken seriously for home broadband, and go beyond what 4G has achieved, then it will also need to deliver the same sort of unlimited usage, latency and network flexibility (no CGNAT for me!).

      However if those elements can be achieved then I for one may struggle to see much point in using my fixed line for broadband. But first it has to deliver on the above and also be competitively priced, which is a tall order.

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