EE trials rural micro network

EE has announced it is to launch a micro network to connect some of UK’s rural communities that currently don’t have a reliable mobile or high speed broadband connection. The telco said it has successfully trialled the connected antenna technology in a Cumbrian village, and will connect 1,500 communities by the end of 2017.

The network provides voice and 3G and 4G data connectivity via interconnected small antennas, which are connected to a macro site without having to have any cabling or broadband lines. Sebergham in Cumbria is the first place to get the new network, where the village’s 129 households will be served by three small antennas.

“The mobile service here is either non-existent or spasmodic at best. And the broadband is incredibly slow and very unreliable, Cumbria County Councillor Duncan Fairbairn said.

“In rural communities like Sebergham, being connected to good, reliable mobile coverage can make a significant difference to everyday life and we need fast broadband. We’re delighted to be the first community in the UK to benefit from this EE initiative, and there are more villages in my parish that I know will benefit hugely from this, and they’re excited to be connected next.”

EE said the solution is designed for an area of 0.5 square mile, where three antennas can connect around 100-150 homes and businesses. The operator claimed the technology, designed by Parallel Wireless, is unique and hasn’t ever been deployed before.

“With this innovative new technology, we have the capability to connect every community in the UK, and we estimate that we’ll be able to bring reliable voice coverage and high speed mobile broadband to more than 1,500 places for the first time by 2017,” EE’s CEO Olaf Swantee said. “We’ve been working closely with [the] government on the long-term ambition to bring voice coverage to more of the UK, and we believe that this world-first technology will demonstrate significant advancements against that vision.”

And it’s probably no coincidence that this public show of rural support coincides with the end of the government consultation on forcing operators to share their networks in order to improve rural coverage. EE said it will start deploying the new technology at the beginning of 2015 and says the micro network offers a lower cost solution than a traditional macro network. The antennas can be installed on any building without a planning permission. However, EE also said investments in the core telecoms infrastructure are still needed as the micro network alone cannot bring coverage to all of the rural UK.

With increasing pressure on operators from consumers, businesses and the government to provide better connectivity in badly connected areas, this technology has promise. It will not solve the issue with rural coverage entirely, but it can work as part of the solution and provide more targeted connectivity in small areas. Provided it’s fully rolled out, of course.

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