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EE goes live in first-of-its-kind mobile infrastructure pilot in London

BT-owned mobile division announces first outdoor 4G and 5G small cell network in the UK capable of hosting all four mobile network operators from day one through bespoke technical solution and centralised radio access network

Hot on the heels of its parent company revealing that it had embarked on a trial of novel 5G technology in Leeds, UK operator EE has announced that mobile users in the City of London can now access enhanced 4G and 5G coverage as part of a connectivity pilot led by connectivity infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider Freshwave.

Explaining the rationale for the trial, EE noted that in busy areas such as city centres, the number of people using mobile devices can create high demand on the macro site serving that area. As a solution, outdoor small cells installed at street level process some of that demand themselves, making them a candidate technology for enhancing mobile connectivity in densely populated areas. 5G technology also means networks must be densified.

The new cells, positioned along the historic Queen Victoria Street, are the first 5G outdoor small cells to be installed in the City of London and are expected to go live early in 2023. Freshwave built the new mobile infrastructure in the 10-site pilot to make it shareable and capable of delivering 4G and 5G for all four mobile network operators (MNOs).

EE is now live on Freshwave’s neutral host network, a network-sharing infrastructure arrangement facilitated by a third party. Mobile infrastructure services provider Cornerstone holds the concession with the City Corporation and Freshwave is delivering the pilot through this concession.

The connectivity IaaS provider designed a bespoke solution for the pilot, which means the network can accommodate all four mobile network operators on 4G and 5G immediately with no adjustments to the infrastructure needed – said to be a first for the UK. Virgin Media O2 has already signed up to the project and Vodafone will join the pilot in the first quarter of 2023. 

The solution consists of specially designed wide-band antennas, cabinets and columns, along with large amounts of dark fibre to each cabinet. The multi-operator outdoor small cell network is the culmination of more than two years of Freshwave’s close collaboration with all four UK MNOs and other industry partners.

The first-of-its-kind network’s shareable infrastructure is designed to reduce equipment and infrastructure duplication, making it more cost-effective to deploy, as well as minimising street clutter and the associated disruption during street works. It is also said to be able to reduce the environmental impact, while still bringing street-level connectivity for everyone’s benefit.

The network uses a centralised radio access network (C-RAN) and by housing multiple pieces of telecoms equipment in accompanying cabinets fewer devices are needed on the street assets themselves. The network uses dark fibre built by wholesale fibre broadband operator Netomnia.

“We’re delighted to have reached this milestone in the pilot of our truly multi-operator neutral host network. Shared digital infrastructure is the logical evolution in telecoms as cities become more connected and smarter,” remarked Freshwave CEO Simon Frumkin. “Companies like Freshwave that deploy using the neutral host model help accelerate this connectivity for everyone as the model is more cost-effective, greener and less disruptive. I’m proud Freshwave are doing what’s right by all parties in this area.”

James Hope, director of mobile radio access networks at EE, added: “High-capacity, superfast connectivity is essential for consumers and businesses today, with demand for data and low-latency networks continuing to rise. We’re pleased to be the first operator live on this pilot with Freshwave, helping to deliver the best possible 4G and 5G services to our City of London customers, even at the busiest times. The project is a further demonstration of how we’re enhancing our networks to help both digitise and deliver economic prosperity to the UK, and we look forward to extending it in the future.”

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