EE plans to deploy small cells to close wireless coverage gaps in 1,500 rural villages in the UK, following a trial of what the operator called a world first technology in a community comprising 129 homes and businesses.
EE's first rural micro network is connected
The UK operator said it would begin offering voice, 3G and 4G services in areas that currently lack reliable mobile and fixed broadband services in 2015, and complete deployment to all 1,500 communities by 2017. EE plans to deploy micro networks that connect wirelessly to the nearest suitable macro site after trialling the approach in a rural community situated in a deep valley.
In a statement, EE explains its network is unique because it does not require fixed broadband to connect to the wider mobile network. The network was designed by Parallel Wireless and can connect communities of 100 to 150 premises across an area of 0.5 square miles using three or four small antennas. Those antennas can be installed on any building without the need for planning permission.
EE announced the move a day after reports that UK government ministers were preparing to meet with leading executives from the UK's four leading mobile network operators to discuss ways of improving coverage in the country.
The Financial Times reported that operators had submitted joint proposals to tackle patchy coverage, after the government opened a consultation on potential legislation to improve the availability of mobile services, for example by developing a national roaming plan.
In November, UK newspaper the Telegraph reported that EE, Vodafone UK, O2 UK, and Three UK had agreed to invest millions of pounds in new masts to boost voice coverage to 89 per cent of the population in a bid to stave off legislation.
Olaf Swantee, EE CEO, said the company's micro network "will demonstrate significant advancements" towards the government's "long-term ambition to bring voice coverage to more of the UK".
However, EE conceded in its micro network statement that broader geographical coverage improvements will still require ongoing investment in the regular macro network. The micro network aims to deliver targeted voice and data coverage for small communities, at a lower cost than deploying mobile masts or fixed line connections.
BT, which is reportedly in talks with EE owners Orange and Deutsche Telekom regarding a potential acquisition of the operator, also plans to deploy small cells as part of a re-entry into the mobile sector. Fixed line rival TalkTalk is also eyeing small cells as part of a quad-play drive.
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