UK telco group BT and its mobile arm EE have declared there must not be one patch of British soil left untouched by 5G coverage, and invited the press to a ‘Deep Dive’ to detail it’s progress.
The session was ostensibly about the progress it’s making in expanding EE’s 5G footprint to remote rural areas, including national parks and tourist areas such as the Breckon Beacons which are otherwise not very well covered, and the firm affirmed its commitment to deliver ‘an EE 5G solution anywhere in the UK by 2028.’
We’re told nearly 500 additional smaller communities (BT name checked Church Stretton and Birkenshaw in England, Llandeilo and Pen-y-banc (Carmarthenshire) in Wales and Tayport and Ratho in Scotland) can now slurp up EE’s 5G signal, which brings the total number of UK cities, towns and villages hooked up to over 1,000. There were also boasts around the 4G network, which is apparently on track to pass 90% of the UK’s geographic landmass by the mid-2020s.
It’s also hooking up national parks and rural tourist destinations, such as Berwick-upon-Tweed and Windermere in England, Brecon (Aberhonddu), Dolgellau (Gwynedd) and Narberth (Pembrokeshire) in Wales, and Fort William in Scotland. The Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast and The Broads are the first national parks to be graced with 5G goodness, we’re told.
BT also detailed a number of technology investments and team-ups it has made in the pursuit of its intended blanket coverage, where terrestrial coverage isn’t available. A partnership with OneWeb saw it achieve what it says is the first transmission of 4G data using a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite link to connect an EE mast to the mobile core network, instead of a traditional line of sight microwave or fibre connection. This apparently will apparently be of use when it comes to providing connections for small ‘ultra-remote’ communities, emergency responders and disaster recovery units and temporary deployments such as festivals, events or construction sites.
It also highlighted a soon to be launched solar and wind powered 5G mast in Wales’ Elan Valley, trials around the use of biofuels like Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), Biogas and Hydrogen in network generators, and the HAPS programme it developed with Stratospheric Platforms.
The shutting off of the 3G network – or ‘sunsetting’ as is the corporate parlance – was also brought up. We were told the firm is aiming to get everyone off it by the end of the year, and then start decommission the kit next January. However there are barriers, such as an unnamed bus company still using 3G for its payments system.
BT and EE operate across a huge footprint of infrastructure and have a wide array of interests, and as such when delivering quite a general update on everything it is beavering away on yielded a ton of information, including information on why refarming 3G is crucial to energy efficiency, some MiMO antenna tech it is working on, how many unique users connect to its Wi Fi hot spots every month (700k), how it is working with energy companies to improve resilience during storms and other weather based problems, that it now has 51 sites with 10 gig backhaul, and more besides.
It’s presumably not as lucrative or even cost-efficient plugging in very remote and sparsely populated areas to 5G compared to densely populated cities, but BT is certainly making a big show of doing so anyway, and sometimes it sounds almost like they are presenting it almost as a public service.
When this subject of the business case for hooking up every square inch of the country came up at the Q and A after the presentation, BT revealed it would perhaps not mind some more help from the government as it looks to complete its mission: “The nature of telecoms, it’s always going to be hard and always going to be more of an economic challenge, and therefore, will always be easier to do with government support.”
When pressed in the Q and A, BT added that basically having 5G access whilst walking along in the Brecon Beacons when your friend walking next to you doesn’t is a market differentiator for EE – which is fair enough, though perhaps another motivation for highlighting how active it is in making sure everyone has access to 5G is also useful when making the case for more of that government assistance.