A short train ride from London lies the commuter town of Borehamwood. Tucked away among the numerous trading estates, high-streets shops and Wetherspoons pubs that are worryingly busy for a Thursday morning, lies a nondescript building with no outwardly obvious role.
But step inside and the familiar aqua and yellow branding of operator EE is immediately visible, for this is one of the firm's two network service delivery department (NSDD) testing labs (the other is in Bristol).
V3 joined a small gathering at the facility on Thursday in a rare chance to peek inside such an environment and to hear from EE about what goes on behind such innocuous-looking doors.
The labs are where EE carries out much of the testing on its network and the devices and services that it will host, to ensure everything is hunky dory before it goes live. This means manufacturers are often to be found lurking inside with never-before-seen devices, as they work with EE to ensure the phone and its components will work on the EE network when its released to the public.
Sadly we didn't see any iPhone 6 devices lying around, but we did spot a few other interesting things that we snapped as we had a look around.
Blast from the past
As you may expect, testing labs are not the sexiest of places, with most of the floors covered in various boxes filled with kit from firms ranging from Sun Microsystems to Nokia and Huawei. However, the below box from long-defunct Canadian telecoms firm Nortel did catch our eye.
EE explained that it has to keep such old kit around to test devices and services on all possible technology that they could come into contact with, as while they may be old they still serve their purpose.
A waterfall of wires
Another common sight at any testing facility, or data centre, is wires. Lots of them. Even so, V3 was quite impressed to see a waterfall of wires running through the facility. Quite beautiful in a way.
Moore's law in the base station
One other thing that caught our eye was just how much the telecoms kit that powers the mobile world has changed over the past 20 years. We all know that phones have reduced from great bricks to svelte, pocket-sized things, but the same is true of base stations.
The image below shows the unbelievable size that base stations used to be, and getting them installed to deliver nothing more than a 2G services was no easy task, as EE director of Network Services Tom Bennett explained. "You used to have to close the roads and get cranes in and hoist them into position, it was fairly demanding stuff," he explained.
Now, as the Huawei base stations below demonstrate, far smaller units that provide both 2G and 4G coverage, are available. "These are light enough for engineers to carry up onto the roof themselves for installation," added Bennett.
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