O2 UK launches LTE trial in London, with backhaul a key focus

O2 UK unveiled on Monday a comprehensive trial of LTE in London with a focus on customer usage and network design. The results of the trials will be used for network planning and architecture purposes across the entire Telefónica group.

O2 said the trial, which will involve around 1,000 consumers, will use 25 existing 2G and 3G base station sites to provide LTE coverage to around 40-square-kilometres in central London. The London trial is live now and will run until June 2012.

The trial LTE network is running on equipment supplied by Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) for both the radio and core network elements, with around 50 per cent of the backhaul links using point-to-multi-point (P2MP) microwave technology from Cambridge Broadband Networks (CBN).

Commenting on the trial's launch, O2 UK CEO ROnan Dunne said in a statement: "Today's launch of the UK's first 4G London trial network demonstrates our commitment to delivering 4G to our customers at the earliest opportunity. The work we are doing now will lay the foundations for our commercial 4G network when it launches in the UK."

Rob Joyce, the head of LTE trials at O2, told Mobile Europe  that NSN was selected to help provide O2 with experience of NSN's capabilities after the equipment provider won a competitive tender for the trial. Huawei was the supplier to the operator's earlier LTE trial at its UK head office. 

According to Joyce, P2MP was a technology whose "time was coming" as more small cells are deployed, adding that CBN's equipment had been performing as expected. "It's not as robust or high capacity as fibre, but we have to ask, do we really want to run fibre to a site with 10 users? If not, what are the alternatives? P2MP microwave is one, and P2P is another."

Commenting on the selection of P2MP, Lance Hiley, vice president of market strategy at CBN, said data capacity, not coverage, was what operators need to think about for LTE. "They should concentrate on the way forward for network design and the need to deploy more and larger sites," he told FierceWireless:Europe. "The costs associated with using managed services for backhaul have outstripped operator plans."

Hiley said that P2MP provides greater flexibility and much faster installation of macro and small cells. "There are clear cost benefits especially for carrying packet data, and the technology can be used to design a backhaul network to optimise the customer experience."

Of particular note, O2 has asked Londoners involved in the trial to use the LTE high-speed data services as much as possible in order to stress the entire network. Joyce added that the company is also encouraging those involved in the trial to use Mi-Fi devices to provide Wi-Fi access to iPads and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices, using the LTE network for backhaul.

For more:
- see this Mobile Europe article
- see this WSJ Tech Blog article
- see this Guardian article

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