Meshing was a technique that was favoured by Wi-Fi operators and now it seems EE are adopting it to help improve coverage in rural areas. EE is working with Parallel Wireless to run a trial in Sebergham with a full deployment in early 2015. If all goes well EE are hoping to use the same methods to connect some 1,500 premises to their wireless network.
The use of Meshing means that rather than a more traditional large mast with fibre backhaul, several smaller units are deployed on buildings in an area, with power taken from the properties own mains supply. The small size of the units avoids planning regulation and by connecting to a properties mains supply you reduce installation costs significantly compared to powering a traditional mast.
There is a video on the Parallel Wireless website that covers most questions and shows the hardware being installed. Looking at speed tests across this area of Cumbria we can see a higher than expected proportion of EE Mobile tests in this rural area to the south of Carlisle, which is most likely down to the previous trials nearby. The Northern Fells website also adds some crucial information, mainly that the speeds will initially be around the 5 Mbps area using 3G signals delivered over 4G equipment and participation will be free for four months.
The area covered by this initial trial is 0.5 square miles with three or four antenna, but the success will be as much based on the technical aspects as to what the cost of the service will be after the trial. The older trial area appears to be paying around £30 a month for 20GB of data, which is plenty for general web browsing, but when a mobile game update can be 1GB in size and a HD movie might use 3 to 4GB one can see data allowances and their relatively high price becoming a hurdle. It will also be interesting to see how the meshing works longer term in terms of that horrible time when a resident hosting a mesh box has gone on holiday, but a mains fuse has tripped.