Getting to try LTE in the Isle of Man

Last week I was invited by Manx Telecom, one of the telecommunication operators in the Isle of Man to join them on a trial of the 4G technology they are planning to deploy in the next couple of years. It’s a mobile technology called LTE which, based on what I saw, is just awesome!

We met up at Manx Telecom’s Headquarters nice and early where they had a a van all kitted out to take us around. They have 2 base stations set up for the trial, one around their HQ and one at their shop in Douglas. The base station in Douglas has a range that extends over the whole of the promenade, so the main component of the trail consisted of driving up and and down the prom making full use of the technology. The had a USB stick that took a Sim card that let them connect to the 4G network which was plugged into an in-car computer. It was also wired up to a Wifi router to provide a hotspot around the car.

So, what do I mean by saying the results were awesome? Well, we saw download speeds of 52Mb/s, uploads of 10Mb/s and a latency that puts my home ADSL to shame. We first started with some uploads and downloads just to see what we could get, followed by streaming HD on multiple devices while video conferencing. All this, while driving up and down the prom. Here are some photos from the the trial:

Here’s my take on this new technology. When 3G came around, we we promised streaming video on the move, we were promised video conferencing right from our phones and bunch of other stuff too. The problem with 3G was that it just doesn’t provide the bandwidth, or low latency required to make those thing happen. The iPlayer app insists that you’re on a Wifi connection to work, Skype is flaky over 3G and you really can’t run any video conferencing apps (like Facetime) over 3G. LTE will make all these things possible and finally deliver on these promises.

Some fun facts about LTE:

  • LTE uses part of the spectrum previously used by analogue TV. Switching to Digital has made these available for other purposes.
  • LTE uses lower frequencies that HSDPA. This allows it to penetrate thick Manx stone more easily that current mobile signals.
  • The technical name for the standard is 3GPP LTE. The term 4G is really a marketing phrase, but understandable given the fact that LTE is an order of magnitude faster than currently deployed technology.
  • The technology for LTE is available for deployment today, but pretty much all handsets in use in the Isle of Man won’t be able to use this standard. Future handsets are expected to have LTE built-in.
  • Peak download rates for LTE approach 300 Mbit/s for 4×4 antennas, but the actual speed will depend on base station configuration and licensing restrictions on the width of spectrum available.
  • The first publicly available implementation of LTE was deployed in Scandinavia in 2009

Want to learn more? You can read more about their plans on their press release

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One comment

  1. We’ll have to see how LTE works out in the real world. It’ll be very fast when there’s only 2 users on it trialling it, but when you’ve got hundreds (or thousands) of handsets in a single area, there’s only so much bandwidth to go around, effectively you have the level of contention of how many handsets on a given cell. So “at least 200 active data users per cell” that I’ve read, I strongly suspect it’ll struggle with all 200 trying to watch HD video.

    Still, it’ll be a great improvement over 3G which often has ghastly latency (tried using ssh over 3G? Sometimes you can wait 15 seconds before the characters echo back…)

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