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Online with UK Broadband's 4G service in Southwark

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Even though the UK is unlikely to see any major 4G rollouts for another two years there are a smattering of services available across the country, mostly trials run by the likes of O2 and Everything Everywhere.

One in London that's currently taking place is being hosted by UK Broadband, which announced in February during Mobile World Congress that it would be bringing 4G services to the borough of Southwark in London running on the 3.5GHz and 3.6GHz portions of the spectrum.

Since then, the firm has also announced it will hook up Swindon and the surrounding area with 4G services too as it seeks to offer an alternative to fixed-line broadband services and tempt businesses into using its network on the go for flexible working and cloud computing.

V3 headed over to see the network in Southwark in action, as the firm prepares to take the service from a trial stage to a live network.

Huawei router used to turn the 4G signal into Wi-Fi

First up we tested the service in a hotel using a Huawei router (pictured above) to turn the signal into Wi-Fi service that laptops, tablets and smartphones could access, achieving speeds as high as 42Mbit/s during the tests, although some tests came in slightly lower (see below).

Speeds of almost 40Mbits are avaiable on the 4G network

Next, we hit the road, to test out the service around the borough where the nine base stations installed by UK Broadband are designed to ensure a seamless experience for users of the service moving across the area.

Testing 4G on the move driving around Southwark

We compared the service to a 3G dongle on the Vodafone network and the different in quality was plain to see. The 3G network failed to achieve speeds much over 3Mbit/s and often dropped off entirely.

Meanwhile, the 4G network ranged from 10Mbit/s to 14Mbit/s and was able to stream HD BBC iPlayer content and host a full-screen Skype call without any lag or buffering (see test results below).

4G speed test results from UK Broadband network in Southwark while driving

Clearly the benefits of 4G are numerous and real, and for those in Southwark the impending availability of the service could help UK Broadband snap up numerous customers.

However, the issue is the small ecosystem of devices around the spectrum holdings that the firm is using for its network. Currently, there are barely any tablet or smartphone devices available that natively support 3.5 or 3.6GHz networks.

This means anyone wanting to use the network out and about will need a Mi-Fi device to convert the signal into Wi-Fi that their device can latch on to. This isn't a hardship, but adds another layer of complication when simplicity is vital.

Of course, for users of laptops and Mi-Fi devices, this will not represent much of a change in use, but for smartphone and tablet users it may be somewhat frustrating having to carry a second item around to access the network.

However, with numerous chipset vendors announcing their intention to produce chips that support these spectrums in the future, this may not be a problem for too long.

Certainly, with at least two years until 4G is available across the UK from mobile operators, the firm may well be able to entice homes and businesses in Southwark, Swindon, and other locations yet to be announced, to its growing 4G network.

26 Jun 2012

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