LTE tests in Wales are under-way which could offer a solution to improve broadband access to rural areas. The trials conducted by Arqiva and Alcatel-Lucent have set up the next-generation mobile network to show what the technology can achieve in the Preseli Mountains in west Wales. They are using the 800MHz spectrum that has already been freed up by the switch off of analogue TV in the region to transmit the signal over 6 kms and they say can offer speeds of up to 50Mbps.
The simulation is using an antenna fixed to a vehicle which passes the signal to a WiFi router. In a live-network deployment, a fixed antenna could be attached to the roof of a house to provide the link to the network.
"We are able to demonstrate fixed broadband in current not spot locations; highlighting the coverage and capacity that wireless can rapidly deliver in rural areas.
Very shortly LTE devices will be available that take a 4G signal in and emit Wi-Fi in a single form factor like the 3G MiFi devices you see today.Jonathan Freeman, (Head of strategic development, Arqiva
Whilst the ability to fill in broadband not-spots quickly and cheaply is a useful tool for increasing broadband coverage, some people may be sceptical about how this will scale to allow access to many homes. Mobile networks are contended so that the 50Meg they say is possible will be shared amongst many users, slowing down access for everyone.
An interesting side of the test being run by Arqiva is that it is network-neutral meaning that effectively they can offer wholesale access to all mobile providers, including potentially more traditional fixed-broadband ISPs or new entrants. This would certainly be useful for providing an 'open infrastructure', however it does mean that in this case, with less physical operators, the network would be shared between more users.
The government however announced on Monday that a 'digital hub' (in the form of a fibre connection) would be deployed to every community in the UK which would allow communities to get access to faster broadband through a variety of local access technologies. LTE may not be the best way to make use of this fibre connection.