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BT FDD Trial Looks to Boost 5G Standalone Mobile Broadband Speeds

Thursday, Aug 10th, 2023 (9:43 am) - Score 4,224

A new trial has just been conducted by UK telecoms giant BT (EE) and supplier Ericsson, which is claimed to be somewhat of a “European first” after it successfully demonstrated the transmission of Standalone 5G services in a wideband Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) radio carrier (over 20MHz) within a sub-3GHz spectrum band.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so we’ll start by adding a little context. Firstly, Standalone (SA) networks are pure end-to-end 5G networks that can deliver improvements such as ultra-low latency times (fast), better upload speeds, network slicing capabilities, better support for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, increased reliability and security (most existing 5G is non-Standalone and thus has some reliance on older / slower 4G infrastructure).

As for FDD, it’s a spectrum usage technique like Time Division Duplex (TDD). In a traditional TDD setup, the network’s uplink and downlink connections essentially use the same spectrum frequencies, albeit at different times. By comparison, FDD mode means that both uplink and downlink can transmit at the same time, albeit by using different spectrum frequencies. The two methods can also be combined.

In this case, the “breakthrough trial” is said to have demonstrated the benefits of configuring a wide carrier bandwidth of 50MHz (50MHz downlink + 50MHz uplink) in EE’s 2.6GHz band and performing downlink aggregation with two TDD carriers in EE’s 3.5GHz band. The trial also evaluated an intermediate carrier bandwidth of 30MHz.

Conducted on BT’s live network in Bristol and Potters Bar using existing Ericsson commercial hardware (Baseband 6648, Radio 4419) and by activating the software feature ‘Large Bandwidth Support Low-Band’, testing with MediaTek Dimensity powered handsets with integrated MediaTek M80 Release-16 modem, the trial has shown a capacity uplift of more than three times with a single FDD carrier. This is particularly significant for the uplink in 5G Standalone (5G SA), which is currently based on a single carrier.

Greg McCall, Chief Networks Officer of BT Group, said:

“This breakthrough is the latest example of our commitment to maximising the full potential of 5G for our customers. As network quality and accessibility improve, so too will innovation and the 5G services ecosystem. Demonstrating new network capabilities such as those announced today is critical to achieving this goal, and also paves the way to ensuring that 5G SA delivers new possibilities for our customers.”

Evangelia Tzifa, CTO Networks & Managed Services for Ericsson UK, said:

“This is a great step forward for the deployment of 5G Standalone for EE in the UK. Ericsson innovative software capabilities such as large bandwidths for NR FDD as well as NR Carrier Aggregation enable a solid foundation for improved end user experience and network performance. This is a fundamental link for business success and the evolution to next-generation connectivity across the country.”

Sadly, there were no solid benchmark results or comparisons provided to properly support the claim of performance “benefits“, although we don’t doubt that they exist in this setup. But it would have been nice to see something more detailed than a vague claim of capacity uplift.

Enabling 5G to be expanded in FDD bands is an important step in paving the way for the arrival of EE’s 5G Standalone mobile network. 5G SA will in future enable superior experiences for consumers and businesses – meeting the growing demand for data, although initially we don’t expect to see it being deployed much beyond dense urban areas.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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18 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Aled says:

    I am really waiting to see any particularly exciting improvement with 5G services. So far I would have been perfectly happy with the old 4G+ performance, downloads and latency.

    I mean, I know it’s all good to see improvements. But really if anything I couldn’t tell you a single difference in user experience between 4G+ and 5G. 5G launched four years ago in the UK, and they haven’t really rolled out a proper 5GSA service yet, so that’ll take another 5 years to do properly.

    I am hopeful that when the 700MHz spectrum is rolled out we will see benefits in the rural areas in coverage/bandwidth, although if someone could inform me what bandwith aggregation we are likely to see that would excite me further. Generally speaking I see ~ 5MHz on EE rural masts, although that is personal experience in my Welshy regions. If it reached 20MHz at either 700/800/1400 I would be delighted. EE seem to have been rolling out 700MHz for two years now, but I haven’t detected it when using cellmapper so far

    1. Avatar photo nicknack says:

      Totally agree with regards to the 700MHz, they have rolled it out on a local site but I’d say it never gets used. L08 always is above it in terms of the priority and by then you’re back on a L18/21 site again. Bit of a waste, especially in urban areas where L08 prevails

    2. Avatar photo Terry O'Toole says:

      EE have 2×10 MHz in Band 28 (700 MHz) and 2×5 MHz in Band 20 (800 MHz) – they have no more spectrum to play with in those bands until some time in the future when the current licences expire and they are auctioned again. So they are not going to get 2×20 Mhz blocks in these bands any time soon.

      As it is, Hertz for Hertz in terms of carrier bandwidth, 5G NR only provides a marginal to very modest data speed increase compared to 4G LTE, assuming most other parameters are the same (eg. modulation, antennas used). The main benefits for end users will be in what Mark has already mentioned in his above report, namely quicker ping times compared to LTE and also potentially better power conservation (for SA at least). Anyone who thinks that suddenly getting 5G on the sub <1 GHz bands where they live is going to give them blistering speeds are almost certainly going to be disappointed.

  2. Avatar photo Sam Perry says:

    Won’t make sod all difference to me if they are letting payg customers use it

    1. Avatar photo Terry O'Toole says:

      EE PAYG Customers currently have no access to their 5G network, only 2G/3G/4G.

      MVNO’s using EE’s network that offer PAYG services may differ.

  3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    No doubt they will be using the the old chestnut of “up to xx” which in reality means nothing like the figure advertised especially when they have a lot of users sharing the same bandwidth

  4. Avatar photo Gigabit says:

    Perhaps they should do something about their indoor coverage which to this day is still much worse than Vodafone and O2?

    1. Avatar photo Jim says:

      They are, by rolling out band 20 and 28. EE used to rely heavily on band 3 which made their indoor coverage worse than the likes of VF and O2.

      Where I live, since they’ve been upgrading their network, I get better indoor reception on EE than I do the others.

    2. Avatar photo Duncan says:

      How will you know when this becomes available in your area? Will the work be listed on the likes of one.network?

    3. Avatar photo Jim says:

      @Duncan A mast near me was recently upgraded and was showing on one.network beforehand that work was planned.

      It lasted about 4 days and after completion I noticed new cabinets, antennas and 5G.

    4. Avatar photo NIck Hawke says:

      The Mobile operators are not responsible for indoor coverage. So if you want to solve your mobile signal indoors you need to get a repeater.

    5. Avatar photo Gigabit says:

      @Nick Hawke O2 and Vodafone have no issue providing indoor coverage to me, perhaps EE should build a better indoor network.

    6. Avatar photo Gigabit says:

      As for band 20, EE have had it “rolled out” for years and it’s so slow and congested as to be useless, this is the issue with the 5MHz allocation they have.

      People like to complain that O2 is slow but at least it works indoors, EE band 20 is literally useless indoors, it doesn’t actually work if there are more than about 5 people using it.

      I hope band 28 will help but I am extremely sceptical, EE seem to think the place to use your phone is outdoors rather than indoors and their network reflects that.

    7. Avatar photo Jim says:

      O2 rely on band 20 for pretty much all their 4G coverage that isn’t urban. That often means you can have full bars and zero data, but at least phone calls and text messages still work.

      I’d much rather have a working data connection, thank you!

    8. Avatar photo Gig says:

      @Jim EE rely on band 20 indoors because their 4G doesn’t reach, it is so slow even calls don’t work.

      I’d rather have usable indoor reception than 100Mb outside thank you!

  5. Avatar photo Alex Jones says:

    I’ve tried EE in two major cities (with a break of about 18 months) when they had good sim only deals on the go. My phone used Wi-Fi calling practically all the time indoors as the signal was so weak.

    Their tranche of higher frequencies are fine when outdoors but indoors they have signal penetration issues on anything other than new builds. The 4G/800MHz coverage is not great and have to question does their 5G/700MHz support VoNR? If not, you’ll have to rely on their limited 4G/800MHz for VoLTE.

    1. Avatar photo Gig says:

      I posted this above and was shouted down by the usual EE shills.

      EE is and continues to be utterly useless indoors where people actually use their devices, even in London, it is so frequent to be indoors on EE and have no usable coverage. O2 by comparison have band 40 or small cells providing 50Mb on band 3.

      EE talk about speeds because it is all they have, they cannot compete on indoor coverage because it is not something they are interested in providing. End of story.

    2. Avatar photo Jim says:

      @Gig no one shouted you down, get over yourself.

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