Are BT’s 4G Plans Delayed?

Back in May we looked at the possibility of BT returning to the consumer mobile market and the likelihood that it will undercut other 4G networks. This week the Telegraph reported that BT is facing delays with their mobile plans, but a spokesman for the group insists that they are still on track. So what is happening with 4G from BT?

BT to launch 4G network

BT plans to roll out a network that makes use of its 5.4 million Wi-Fi hotspots to ensure that as much voice call and data traffic as possible is carried over Wi-Fi networks rather than 4G. This will allow them to keep costs down and undercut other 4G providers.  To fill in the gaps between Wi-Fi hotspots BT has reached an agreement with EE to rent capacity on its 4G network, and has also bought its own chunk of 4G radio spectrum.

BT is said to be facing a number of technical issues with the proposed network:

Wi-Fi and 4G handover

The Telegraph reports that BT are struggling to master the technology required for the consumer to switch seamlessly between Wi-Fi connectivity and EE’s 4G network. A smooth handover between Wi-Fi and 4G is essential to the success of the project so that customer calls aren’t interrupted when they switch from one to the other. These technical issues may push the launch of the BT network into the second quarter of next year – the first quarter of BT’s financial year – which would mean they miss their self-imposed deadline.

Development of 4G spectrum

The more BT has to rely on EE’s 4G network the less cost efficient its mobile offering will be, so BT has spent £186 million on its own chunk of 4G spectrum.  Through its subsidiary Niche Spectrum Ventures Ltd, the BT group bought 2 x 15 MHz of 2.6 GHz and 1 x 20 MHz of 2.6 GHz last year, and it is currently developing this as part of its own 4G network.

Home Hub upgrades

Part of BT’s ambitious plan is to upgrade its Home Hub routers to act as miniature 4G mobile masts, allowing customers to make use of the spectrum. The main challenge facing BT here is finding a way to stop signals from interfering with one another when large numbers of houses in the same area all have BT broadband.

According to Gavin Paterson, CEO of the BT Group, “We think we’ll be able to get the majority of people’s usage onto our network. And where we can’t, they’ll be able to roam seamlessly onto the arrangement we’ve got with EE. In terms of the timeframe, the critical thing we’ve got to get right is the customer experience.”

BT’s approach is certainly different from other 4G networks, and switching the user seamlessly between a number of overlapping systems that carry voice and data should make for a more cost effective solution when it does arrive. A BT spokesman insists that there are no delays, stating that “We have always been very clear that it will take the best part of two years to develop our consumer femtocell service and this remains the case,” so watch this space …