Mobile telephone and broadband operator EE (Everything Everywhere) has announced plans to provide both 3G and 4G connectivity to more than 1500 rural areas of the UK.
The company will trial their scheme in the small village of Sebergham in Cumbria, a place situated within a valley and with a total population of only 347 living in 129 homes, before beginning wider rollout in 2015 should the four-month long tests prove successful.
EE will be using a micro-network technology, operated by a firm called Parallel Wireless. The technology is known as ‘Meshing’.
Put simply, this means that rather than use a single large mast to provide the signal to premises, much smaller wireless, mobile antennae are installed on to the side of almost any building.
These micro cells can be deployed very quickly, in as little as a few hours, and their small size means that they do not require any planning permission.
The power to the unit is provided by the mains supply of the property to which the cell is attached. This significantly reduces installation costs compared to those of a traditional mast.
Just three or four of these cells are enough to cover an area of up to half a mile and between 100 and 150 properties.
At the outset, the mobile signal will be 3G, delivered by 4G equipment, and the speed will be fairly slow, only around 5Mbps.
However, many parts of rural Cumbria are currently unable to receive any sort of mobile signal at all, or the signal is ‘spasmodic’ at best. Cumbria County Councillor Duncan Fairbairn has also described current broadband capability as ‘incredibly slow and unreliable’.
There are, of course, possible pitfalls. The network will rely on home owners willing to host the micro cells, and should any of the host properties suffer a mains failure while the owner is away, the whole network could suffer or even collapse.
But there are also clear advantages to the scheme. Mr Fairbairn comments that ‘being connected to good, reliable mobile coverage can make a significant difference to everyday life’.
It isn’t the first time that EE has held trials in Cumbria. Last year the company launched a fixed-location 4G broadband service in the Threlkeld area, and the operator is currently looking for customers in Mungrisdale to trial the service being tested in Sebergham.