Tuesday 16 July 2019

Vodafone to trial 5G-compatible mobile broadband outside Irish cities

Vodafone Ireland's interim chief technology officer Max Gasparroni
Vodafone Ireland's interim chief technology officer Max Gasparroni
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Vodafone Ireland is dipping a toe into rural 5G mobile broadband with trials in Roscommon, Wexford, Tipperary and Waterford.

The operator is setting up a service around towns in the countries with what it calls “5G capable equipment”.

It means that wireless connections from the equipment will be able to get high speed broadband of up to 500Mbs, according to the operator. That’s several times faster than the fastest Eir ‘eFibre’ phone broadband.

“This trial will allow us to look at how we can enhance and extend broadband access to our customers in the most rural parts of the country,” said Max Gasparroni, Vodafone Ireland’s interim chief technology officer.

The trials will be conducted with equipment given to 250 homes and businesses in the four counties. It will consist of an external antenna installed at the triallist’s house which will be connected directly to a home wifi router that picks up the dedicated 3.6Ghz spectrum.

The operator is using its 3.6GHz spectrum, earmarked for high speed wireless connections.

“This will be a network dedicated to handling only the broadband traffic of these fixed wireless customers, thereby enhancing their experience,” said a company statement.

“The aim of the trial is to explore the possibility of operating a dedicated rural wireless network where customers are connected to the internet on a Vodafone wireless broadband connection.”

The move comes after Vodafone set up its first 5G cell in Dublin’s docklands on a trial basis. The single cell, using the 3.6GHz band of spectrum, is to be tested by research students from universities and Vodafone’s own staff in the area.

Last month, Ericsson announced a 5G wifi router that can translate a 5G signal into high speed mobile broadband for existing laptops, phones and tablets. The device is expected to be launched for sale in Ireland next year.

Meanwhile, the telecoms regulator, Comreg, has delayed the release of a mobile blackspot map in Ireland until 2019. The watchdog had planned to release a map showing the strongest and weakest areas of mobile coverage across the country this month.

“Comreg has made considerable progress with the mobile coverage map and is in the final stages of testing and validation,” a spokesman told Independent.ie.

“We plan to release a version to the mobile network operators in the coming days. Subject to any identified issues being addressed as appropriate, we expect to make the map available to the public in the new year.”

The map is based on an estimation by Comreg, together with input from mobile operators, rather than its own field testing.

“The mast data is coming from the operators,” Comreg commissioner Jeremy Godfrey recently told this newspaper when explaining how the map would be calculated.

“Then Comreg’s own analysis will use detailed engineering models to calculate down to cells of ten square metres. The idea is that people can select a place and select a network and it will tell them based on Comreg’s information whether they are likely or unlikely to get coverage there.”

He said that the data will initially be available to browse on a website rather than an app.

At present, the regulator Comreg does not know where many of the country’s blackspots are due to limited testing ability across Ireland.

Mobile phone licences at present only require operators to cover up to 90pc of the population, with no geographical coverage stipulation.

This has left thousands of notorious ‘black spots’ around the country. In some cases attempts to build masts have been rejected by local residents.

Earlier this year, the government claimed to be establishing a ‘Blackspots Focus Group’ that would identify “specific categories” of locations where high quality mobile coverage should be available, “and inform future policy to address critical blackspot locations”.

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