LTE to replace failed muni Wi-Fi network in UK city

UK Broadband (UKB) is bringing an LTE network to the city of Swindon, which hopes to regain its financial footing after losing a substantial amount of money on an ill-fated municipal Wi-Fi network.

Swindon, which is located 81 miles west of London, will get LTE service next year from UK Broadband, which is deploying the service using 40 MHz of paired spectrum that it holds in the 3.4 GHz band. UKB will deploy the borough-wide hybrid microwave/LTE network in partnership with Capita, Swindon Borough Council's IT service provider.

Building of the Swindon network has begun and will ultimately consist of a core transmission network that is rolled out to 63 service sites via point-to-point and point-to-multipoint microwave links. "LTE services will then be layered over this network to deliver the first town/city-wide 4G coverage in the UK. This hybrid network will provide a complete wireless city solution for both the public sector and businesses. Local residents will also be able to take advantage of new 4G services through retail partnerships," said UKB, which is owned by Hong Kong-based PCCW.

Though the LTE network will initially offer fixed-only services, UKB said mobile Wi-Fi devices will be introduced in September.

Swindon was an early player in the municipal Wi-Fi arena, having loaned £400,000, or nearly $645,000, in 2009 to Digital City, which was hired to build a city-wide Wi-Fi network under the "freemium" model in which basic services would be offered for free while premium access would incur a fee. Digital City subsequently shut down.

Swindon city leaders are now pledging to make back the lost money within five years via revenues from UK Broadband's LTE network, though it is unclear exactly what business arrangement will allow for that. A news report in The Register suggested Swindon could share its bandwidth with commercial interests by offering up local Wi-Fi connections using the LTE network for backhaul.

"Not only are we rolling out some of the UK's first commercial LTE networks, we are also demonstrating how this technology can be used by local authorities in urban areas to deliver next generation services and save money.  By deploying our unique combination of very high speed microwave and high capacity multi-channel LTE we can deliver truly wireless towns and cities," said Nicholas James, CEO at UK Broadband.

In early March, UKB announced the United Kingdom's first LTE deployment, which the company also claimed was the world's first 3.5 GHz TD-LTE network. UKB said it would sell wholesale access to the network, which is slated for launch during May 2012 in the Southbank and Borough areas of Southwark, a district of central London.

For more:
-see this UK Broadband release
- see this Register article
- see this BBC article
- see this Telegeography article

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