UK Broadband goes live with London TD-LTE network

PCCW subsidiary uses 3.5GHz spectrum to roll out wholesale services, working with Huawei

The UK’s 4G spectrum auctions may have been much delayed, but the country has got its first LTE network in the shape of a TDD system launched by UK Broadband. The operator, which is owned by Hong Kong’s PCCW and previously had limited mobile broadband roll-outs using WiMAX and TD-CDMA, has gone live with a 3.5GHz network in part of London.

The firm has worked with Huawei to create the world’s first TD-LTE deployment in this band, which was a key frequency for WiMAX but has not yet been seen as a major target for LTE. This is because the high frequency has challenges in terms of range, though it can be well suited to urban metrozones of smaller cells – 3.5GHz has mainly been used for fixed wireless or legacy broadcast services. Also, it is mainly TDD, and so holders have either used WiMAX or had to wait for the TD-LTE standard to mature, which is starting to happen, with major roll-outs planned in China, India and elsewhere.

UKB has switched on its new network in the London borough of Southwark, in the south of the city, and will operate a wholesale model, working with partners to offer commercial services to businesses, the public sector and even consumer MVNOs, starting in May.

The firm was created to bid in the UK’s auction of 3.4GHz licences in 2003, and ended up with nationwide allocations. At the time these were for fixed wireless only, but later mobility was permitted. In 2010 UKB acquired the 3.5GHz licence held by Freedom4, the only other significant holder in the band, for £12.5m. That spectrum had been held by ISP Pipex, which had created Freedom4 as a joint venture with Intel to launch WiMAX in the UK, but it did not get beyond trials and was later sold to Daisy Group.

The various transactions mean UKB has a generous 124MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz range (LTE bands 42 and 43), allowing it to deploy 6 x 20MHz wide channels to enable migration to LTE-Advanced in future, plus high capacity for fast broadband speeds. The first devices, developed with Huawei, include indoor and outdoor units, while multimode mobile products supporting TD-LTE, FD-LTE and 3G will be available from September, and a Huawei smartphone next year.

UKB is not planning national coverage, but will build large or small LTE zones where there is demand for high speed wireless services or additional mobile capacity, and usually where there is already a core customer in place. As well as MVNOs and enterprises, its plentiful capacity may be eyed by the major cellcos for offload purposes. CEO Nicholas James said the Southwark network would showcase the capabilities, but the operator expected to announce a city build in a few weeks’ time.

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