4G, Oh yes…

Our exercise of trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot – bringing Gigabit-class fibre broadband to Balquhidder Glen at sustainable cost continues. However, another basic of twenty-teens life is coming to Balquhidder, this time after only moderate whinging from us locals.

Hitherto we’ve had intermittent partial voice GSM coverage from a shared Vodafone/O2 mast and occasional GPRS-level data coverage (by which I mean, “none at all”). To say the least, that’s between irritation and pain for anyone who is out and about and something that generally inhibits local life for everyone from visiting tourists to shepherds on the braes.

But we’re about to be beneficiaries of the “Digital Dividend” that’s arisen from the freeing up of the 800MHz frequency band with the switchoff of analogue TV services: O2/Telefonica is about to upgrade the cell mast (which they share with Vodafone) in the glen to provide LTE (4G) mobile data services to our area. This should mean that subscribers to both networks will get 4G services in the next month or two.

This is excellent news. What’s even better is that, because we’re getting the new generation LTE800 (Band 20), we get the best possible range and penetration into buildings, at the cost of a little trade-off in ultimate capacity – a perfectly fine compromise in a rural area.

It doesn’t alter the fact that the cell tower doesn’t have line of sight to the upper reaches of the glen, but hopefully the newer generation radios being use will provide a useful enhancement to voice as well as data services.

There are a couple of wrinkles however:

Phone compatibility: Most current phones that claim to support 4G should be fine. However, phones released a couple of years ago, before the LTE800 band was licensed, may not do so: the Apple iPhone 5 for instance won’t work with this 4G service (the 5S is fine).

Nor is it yet clear whether provision of 4G locally will include 3G services as a fallback – it may be that we’ll get all (4G) or nothing (if you have a 3G phone).

TV interference: for some rather abstruse technical reasons, there is the possibility of 4G services at this frequency interfering with terrestrial digital TV (DTT). As however, we don’t have DTT locally, this won’t be a problem… There is the faint possibility however that, if your phone is near to a TV with a DTT tuner, regardless of whether it’s connected or not, you just might get a little electronic interference.

I have been asked why this is happening now, when Balquhidder was completely bypassed for 3G services. In short, it’s because coverage for 98% of premises in the UK by 2017 was an OFCOM requirement for O2’s 4G license. Thank you, market regulation.

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