52% of UK Covered by Full Fibre Broadband, Ofcom Summer Study Reveals

With what is likely to be the last of the hot weather for this year, Ofcom have shared the results of their summer 2023 study looking at UK fixed broadband and mobile coverage.

The study reports that Full Fibre FTTP access in the UK has risen by 4% from January 2023 to 52% coverage. 

It has also found that 75% are now within reach of a gigabit-capable network, which is an increase of 2%. 

In addition to this, 76-85% of premises can now get an outdoor 5G connection from at least one operator (an increase from 73-82%). 

Ofcom Summer 2023 Report

This latest report from the communications regulator features data collected between May 2022 and May 2023, including that of their Spring Connected Nation’s update back in January 2023. 

This most recent report is based upon the coverage and service availability information from both fixed line UK Internet Service Providers and Mobile Network Operators. 

Overall, the UK’s coverage of fixed “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) remains unchanged at 97%, while 15.4 million homes (52%) can now order a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) service via various networks (up from 48%).

Key Figures from Ofcom Summer 2023 Report

Gigabit

75% of the UK (that’s 22.4 million homes) can now access Gigabit-capable (1Gbps+) services (up from 73% or 21.9m). 

This figure is higher than that for FTTP due to the majority of the gigabit connectivity coming from Virgin Media’s upgrade to their existing HFC network. In dense urban areas, there is a lot of overbuild between HFC and FTTP. 

What about the last 20% in the hardest to reach areas? The UK Government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit programme aims to improve the above figure so that gigabit coverage is extended to at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 (and 99% nationwide by 2030). 

Premises Still Without ‘Decent’ Broadband 

‘Decent’ broadband is based on a download speed of at least 10Mbps and 1Mbps upload. The number of premises that cannot access this is currently 428,000 which is 1.3% of the UK. 

However, if you include wireless connections via 4G, 5G and Fixed Wireless Access, this number drops down to 62,000. 

4G Mobile Networks

Geographic coverage of 4G wireless services across mobile network operators (EE, Three, O2, Vodafone) has remained about the same, with a range of 80 to 87%. 

Although it’s a slow process, these figures will be improved upon by the Shared Rural Network agreement – A £1 billion project to change things for rural users. 

5G Coverage

There’s still a way to go when it comes to 5G coverage in the UK. The Ofcom Summer 2023 report shares that 76-85% of UK premises can now get outdoor coverage from at least one operator, however when looking at outdoor coverage by all operators put together it drops to 12-22%. 

Voice and Text Coverage

Full Ofcom Summer 2023 Report

We’ve included a few summaries for your perusal but for more detailed information with all the facts and figures you could ask for, download the PDF of the Summer 2023 Update on Connected Nations via the Ofcom website here

Have 5G Download Speeds Fallen in Your Region?

Global leader in network intelligence and connectivity insights, Ookla have revealed via their Speedtest.net platform that 5G based mobile broadband download speeds have fallen over the past year in most UK regions. 

However, despite this fall in 5G download speeds, the overall data speeds for both 4G and 5G have increased. 

Speedtest.net from Ookla is a popular testing service for broadband and mobile network performance. This latest research is based on data collected between the second quarter of 2022 and 2023. 

It found that overall, users have seen a mild increase in their download speed in 10 out of 12 UK regions, across all types of mobile broadband combined.

The highest increase was by 23.4% in the North East, with the lowest increase being in the Yorkshire and Humberside region at 3.9%. (There were a couple of exceptions where the changes were too small to be of note in the South West and Northern Ireland). 

5G Download Speeds Show Statistically Significant Decline

When the study looked at just the data for 5G download speeds, it became apparent that 9 out of 12 UK regions had users with a statistically significant decline. 

3 of these regions experienced a decline of more than 20% in 5G download speeds with another region closely behind:

  • Northern Ireland – 21.65%
  • East Midlands – 21%
  • South East – 20.7%
  • Yorkshire and Humber – 17.8%
Ookla-5G-Speeds-by-UK-Region-Q2-2022-to-2023
With thanks to Open Signal for the graphics

What Can Cause a Decline in 5G Download Speeds?

Typically, we might see a decline like this due to a combination of network maturity and rising customer take-up. Over time, this can cause network congestion, putting pressure on capacity. 

Thankfully, we can combat these issues with technological advances. For example, Ofcom’s future plans are to release more 5G spectrum. We can also benefit from the evolution of 5G technology, such as Standalone 5G. Future improvements like this will help with issues causing declining 5G download speeds. 

How Much Time Do People Spend With an Active 4G/5G Connection?

Ookla research has also found that the proportion of time users spent with an active 4G/5G connection has increased. With the improvements we’ve seen recently with coverage, coupled with the gradual shutdown of 3G (with 2G to follow).

The biggest increase of time spent actively connected to 4G/5G was in Wales (a rise of 4.5%). The smallest increase was 2.4% which was in Yorkshire and Humber. 

Time Spent With Active 5G Connection Also on the Rise

Unsurprisingly, the time users spend with an active 5G connection is also increasing with 5G availability on the rise. 

London – 4% increase (The largest increase of 5G availability)

East Midlands – 3.2%

Eastern – 3%

Wales – 2%

As we already mentioned, this increase in the availability of 5G could explain the decline in 5G download speeds. This is because there are more users than before all trying to use the same data and spectrum capacity. 

However, some regions didn’t see a statistically significant change:

  • Scotland
  • Northern Ireland
  • North East
  • South West
  • West Midlands
Ookla-5G-Availability-by-UK-Region-Q2-2022-to-2023

Which networks were people connected to 4G/5G most?

The data can be further analysed for each network. 

EE – 97.2% (an increase of 2.7% over the last year)

Three – 94% (a larger increase from 85.2% which was the largest of all operators)

Vodafone – 93.2% (an increase of 5%)

O2 – 90.1% (increased from 86.8%)

Which network are you on? Have you noticed any changes with 4G or 5G download speeds in your region? 

UK 4G and 5G Boosted With New Small Cells Deployed by EE

Last week we blogged about the shutdown of 3G in the UK and the myths surrounding this phasing out of lower generation tech. If you’ve been concerned about the 4G coverage in your area, then this article might help to put your mind at rest a little bit. 

Last week, EE announced that they had deployed 411 small cells around the UK. This is in addition to the 200 already deployed last year. 

Small Cells to Boost Urban 4G Network

These small cells are different to masts, and are basically tiny base stations installed on buildings and street furniture.

The idea is that it will boost their 4G speed and coverage across their mobile broadband network. 

They’ve claimed that these small cells will allow customers to access download speeds of up to 300Mbps. As always however, this figure should be taken with a pinch of salt. Download speeds are always subject to variability in many areas including:

  • Mobile environment
  • End-user devices 
  • Consumer demand 

The new 4G small cells are carrying a huge 20TB (TeraBytes) of data traffic every day. 

Whilst masts and larger base stations can transmit over large distances, these newly deployed small cells are designed to transmit over shorter distances and more limited coverage. 

They are used for urban areas where mobile network access is likely to be busy – Like shopping centres, airports and ports. 

Can Rural Networks Benefit from Small Cell Deployment? 

Whilst these small cells are really useful for urban areas, they can also be really valuable for boosting network coverage in rural areas too. 

Used in a similar way as in urban areas, the small cells would be deployed on things like lampposts, street kiosks and CCTV columns. 

Working in just the same way as urban areas, these small cells in rural locations would also help boost 4G coverage. 

How Have EE Chosen Where to Deploy 4G Small Cells?

In order for EE to identify the best locations to deploy their small cells, they use network analytics. 

The small cells are built by Nokia and access both licensed and unlicensed spectrum bands. They harness 1800MHz and 2600MHz on the 2.6GHz band (licensed) as well as the unlicensed 5GHz spectrum bands. 

Where Have EE Deployed New 4G Small Cells?

The deployment of 411 new 4G small cells has been rolled out to various locations across the UK. These include:

  • Birmingham
  • Brighton 
  • Sheffield
  • Swansea
  • Leicester
  • Coventry
  • Wolverhampton
  • Southampton 
  • York. 

There will also be ‘seasonal hotspots’ to handle extra network traffic in popular UK holiday destinations. These include:

  • Newquay
  • Paignton
  • Salcombe
  • Southend-on-Sea 
  • Clacton-on-Sea

What Does EE Say About This New Deployment of 4G Small Cells?

James Hope, EE’s Director of Mobile Radio Access Networks, said:

“As demand for data continues to rise, small cells are becoming an increasingly integral part of our mobile network. Our partnership with Nokia ensures customers continue to benefit from our fastest 4G speeds even at the busiest times and in the most congested of locations, and we’re proud to pass another milestone in this project as we continue to invest in improving the UK’s best mobile network* up and down the country.”

What Does the Future Hold?

Good news! It seems like this latest deployment is only the beginning. According to EE, the plan is to deploy a hundred more small cells over the coming months. 

These will be deployed both in cities with existing small cell infrastructure as well adding new towns and cities to the growing list. 

Will Small Cells Be Used to Boost 5G Coverage?

EE also said that they would be doing a trial where small cells would be used to accommodate the 5G network. 

Thankfully, Nokia’s AirScale portfolio can upgrade to 5G in a smooth and consistent manner. 

Could 4G Mobile Broadband Work For Your Home or Business?

If your home or business premises struggles with more traditional forms of broadband and you’ve been considering 4G mobile broadband as your primary network then get in touch with our Wi-Fi experts today.

We are installers of permanent and temporary 4G Broadband throughout the county, for offices, homes, construction sites and events.

You can call our team on 01962 659 390 during office hours or email info@geekabit.co.uk.

We look forward to speeding up your internet using 4G Broadband!

Mythbusting: Will the Shutdown of 3G Cause Digital Poverty?

 Have you seen the recent news reports about the withdrawal of 3G by Mobile Network Operators – And how this move will result in ‘millions of people’ being plunged into ‘digital poverty’ by disconnecting them from the internet?

Much of this reporting goes unchallenged and could be seen as scaremongering – Will the consequences of withdrawing the 3G service actually be this dire? 

How much is 3G actually still used? 

3G is actually rather old by tech standards. We’ve had 2 further generations of mobile technology since 3G (4G and 5G, obviously). And 6G isn’t far behind them. 

Can you believe that Vodafone has been using their 3G service for 18 years? What else in the world of technology is around for so long! Vodafone also happens to be the first MNO to start the 3G withdrawal process. 3G data traffic on their network accounted for just 4% in January 2022. In 2016 it was over 30%. 

Did you know that 4G is available to over 99% of the UK’s population whilst they are outdoors? Unfortunately this does fall to between 80 and 87% for geographic coverage. Although, if we’re comparing, 2G only covers 85-93%. We use 2G for basic data like voice and text services. 

When will we lose 3G and 2G services? 

The government, along with all the major mobile network operators, have agreed that by 2033, 2G and 3G signals will be phased out. 

You might be wondering why 3G is being withdrawn first when 2G is obviously older. Well, there are less devices in operation that are critically dependent on 3G services. 4G has been more successful, mainly due to 3G being negatively affected by overpriced spectrum licensing.

2G, on the other hand, is still widely used for basic voice services and limited data for mobiles, as well as other applications like Smart Metres in home energy monitoring systems and similar solutions making it a great low-power fallback option. Therefore, 2G will be around for much longer than 3G. 

The gradual withdrawal of 3G services will differ slightly by mobile network operator. You can find out more information on your mobile operator’s plans to phase out 3G below:

  • Vodafone UK began the withdrawal of 3G at the start of this year and aims to have phased it out by December.
  • Three UK are phasing out their 3G network service gradually over the next 2 years, with it being switched off by the end of 2024.
  • EE are starting their 3G withdrawal by first moving customers off 3G, with a view to switching the 3G network off early next year. 
  • O2 are yet to publicly announce anything but are part of the plans to switch off both 2G and 3G by 2033 and are likely to follow a similar timeline as those above. 

Is the phasing out of 3G a good thing or a bad thing? 

The recent news reports we alluded to earlier would suggest that the withdrawal of 3G services would disconnect a lot of people from the internet and result in digital poverty for millions. But is the phasing out of 3G really a negative thing, like these reports suggest?

Let’s take a closer look at a couple of the worries surrounding the 3G switch off, and hopefully alleviate them.

‘My 4G signal is weak – Will I be unable to access mobile data?’

We can totally see why this would be a worry. If you find that your 4G signal coverage is weak in your area and your handset often falls back to 3G, it makes sense that you would be concerned that you would be disconnected from mobile data altogether once 3G is switched off. Especially if your fixed line broadband was also poor locally. 

What you need to bear in mind is that when the 3G service is switched off, the spectrum that would have been used for that will then be used for 4G and 5G services instead. This means that those who often find their weak 4G signal defaults to 3G, would see an improvement in 4G signal once 3G has been phased out. Happily, this also means that mobile broadband speeds would also improve.  

Of course, this does depend somewhat on the operator itself and their approach in your area. There is a chance that some people could have issues if their operator wasn’t to prepare the updated coverage after 3G is phased out. Let’s remember that that’s not in the best interests of the operator either, and all MNO’s are committed to minimising any problems caused by the withdrawal of 3G services. 

Don’t forget that a weak 4G signal can actually still be better than a strong 3G signal. The data capability available to you isn’t always accurately depicted by how many signal bars you see on your screen. 

It’s also worth noting that current plans for mobile connectivity mean that coverage and performance are only going to improve. The Shared Rural Network, an industry led project worth £1 billion, is working hard to bring 4G to 95% of the UK in geographic coverage by the end of 2025.  

What do the operators themselves have to say about the potential problem of weak 4G signal? 

It would seem that UK mobile network operators are prepared for the phasing out of 3G and the subsequent effects on 4G signal. 

Vodafone says:

“By repurposing the 3G network – we can grow the UK-wide reach of our more energy efficient 4G and 5G networks instead – this means faster data speeds, higher quality voice call services and a chance to continue improving connectivity in previously ‘cut-off’ areas, including rural communities and the London Underground.”

  • They will be optimising their 4G and 5G networks as a part of their phasing out of 3G. In fact, some of their 3G spectrum has already been re-directed as a part of this plan. 
  • They have also contacted customers of theirs who could be impacted by issues once 3G has been switched off. So no news is probably good news! 

Three says:

 “Retiring 3G enables us to repurpose network assets where our customers need them (4G&5G) … this plan has been carefully developed by our network teams to ensure that it benefits our customers.”

  • A tiny 3% of their network traffic was 3G so they expect minimal disruption
  • They believe their customers can expect “faster downloads, better quality streaming and a more reliable experience” when 3G is switched-off.
  • Ahead of the 3G switch off, Three are upgrading many of their legacy 3G sites and repurposing them for newer technologies.
  • They suggest that customers who have a 4G / 5G compatible handset will not be impacted by the phasing out of 3G. 

EE says:

  • Whilst the re-farming of 3G will be a process that takes time, the spectrum used for 3G is planned to be used for 4G and 5G, just not immediately. The locations that have the highest need (those that are congested or at risk of congestion) will be the initial focus for the reuse of 3G spectrum.
  • This operator is focusing on making sure that their 4G has enough capacity to cope once 3G has been switched off. In areas where they have both a 3G and 4G service, the 3G doesn’t generally reach beyond that of their 4G services. They believe they have the tools to identify if any work is needed on spectrum and in what areas so that they can be prioritised.
  • They are currently refreshing their 4G and 5G network and replacing some 5G vendor equipment. They need to finish this network refresh before they can re-farm the 3G spectrum. Once the work has been completed, it will be easier to use the remaining 5MHz from the 3G spectrum. Upgrades will be a mix of remote and site visits depending on configuration. Only modernised sites will be able to re-farm the 3G spectrum to be used for 4G and 5G, hence why the process will take some time. 

O2 says:

Not a lot… Yet! As we said above, O2 haven’t publicly announced their plans to phase out 3G services like the other operators have so it’s all a bit quiet from the O2 camp. 

‘I have an old device that doesn’t have 4G capabilities – How will I get online when 3G is phased out?’

The DPA (Digital Poverty Alliance) is concerned that people with older, more basic devices that don’t have 4G capabilities will fall into ‘digital poverty’ once 3G is phased out if they rely on that device to get online. 

But is this a legitimate concern? Here are some reasons why this may be an unfounded worry. 

  • There are basic phones that have 4G capabilities that have been available on the market for a number of years. They are generally lower cost than more elaborate devices, at around £20-£50 for the handset.
  • Operators often offer bundles with cheap plans and almost free handsets on the more basic models
  • Some operators and charities give more vulnerable users basic handsets for free, so they only need to pay for the tariff

That being said, we realise that there will be people out there that may currently have a device that doesn’t support 4G. There are options out there so anyone who is worried have a shop around – A basic 4G compatible handset and monthly plan for less than £10 a month are out there. 

The best option if you are concerned is probably to ring your current operator and see what they can offer you. 

How Can You Make Sure You’re Not Affected by the 3G Switch Off? 

We’re not saying that nobody will be affected by the phasing out of 3G services. There are always going to be the odd few where unique cases mean that something goes awry. Let’s bear in mind that some handsets will have better reception than others! 

We’re feeling hopeful that the operators will have planned the 3G withdrawal properly and will minimise the impact on their customers. I guess we’ll find out! 

Saying that, here are a few things you can look out for to try and minimise any disruption to your coverage and connections:

  • Ensure your current handset (or any new one you buy) has VoLTE (Voice-over-LTE) capability. Not all 4G handsets can make calls over the same generation of network technology, but if your handset supports the above it will be helpful.
  • Choose a handset that supports Wi-Fi Calling. Whilst not as common on the more basic handsets, if you have a home broadband connection then this would come in very handy.
  • Anyone with a 4G handset having issues after the 3G switch off should perhaps consider changing mobile operator and see if that fixes the problem. Each operator will have different coverage, varying by site, so it might be worth switching around. This also goes for the above – If you have a VoLTE or Wi-Fi Calling enabled handset but are having issues, it could be the operator.
  • Remember that when making calls and texts, 3G/4G handsets will fall back to 2G if having trouble anyway. 

Despite the sensationalised articles about the phasing out of 3G services in headline news, try not to worry. We deal with technological advances all the time in this modern world. You could choose to see the withdrawal of 3G as an upgrade to 4G/5G instead of a negative.

There may well be teething problems for a small percentage of mobile users, but we’re pretty sure that mobile operators will find a solution that works for all when the time comes to switch off 3G services. 

London Underground: 5G Deployed by Virgin Media O2 UK 

Last month, VMO2 became the last of the four primary mobile providers to begin their deployment of their ultrafast 5G mobile broadband service on the London Underground. 

Their 5G mobile broadband has been deployed on the:

  • Central Line – Between Queensway and Holland Park
  • Northern Line – Between Kentish Town and Archway 

5G Mobile Broadband on the Central Line

If you are a commuter on the Central Line, the Underground tunnels between Queensway and Holland Park now have 4G and 5G services following the new roll out. 

You should experience seamless connectivity when travelling through these stations. 

Nestled between Queensway and Holland Park is Notting Hill Gate Station, which has now been upgraded to be a fully 5G station. This means that Central Line platforms and ticket halls at this station will now have this latest mobile network available. 

The stations at Queensway and Holland Park have now had 4G introduced. 

With thanks to https://www.london-tube-map.info/central-line/ for the image

5G Mobile Broadband on the Northern Line

As a commuter on the Northern Line, you should now be able to connect to 5G from Archway to Tufnell Park stations. 

Kentish Town station will also now have 4G connectivity. 

With thanks to https://www.london-tube-map.info/northern-line/ for the image

Shared Platform from Boldyn Networks 

The same network platform from BAI Communications (Boldyn Networks) is being shared by all of the primary operators.

Transport for London have a 20 year concession deal with BAI. This allows them to build the infrastructure needed for fibre-fed mobile connectivity, and then make it available via wholesale. 

Revolutionised Commuting in the Capital

Having Underground connectivity has long been a dream for commuters travelling around London using the tube. 

Chief Commercial Officer for VMO2, Gareth Turpin, says:

“For the first time, our customers can access the latest 5G mobile services deep under London. This is set to revolutionise commuting in the capital, and in the weeks and months ahead we’ll be rolling out ultrafast mobile services at more Tube stations, in tunnels and on platforms to bring high-speed connectivity to our customers as they travel on the Underground.

This is part of our commitment to upgrading the UK and ensuring customers can access our network wherever they are.”

When will all of the London Underground have 4G / 5G mobile broadband connectivity?

The network coverage is set to expand further throughout this year. 

Back in 2020, earlier work by TfL and other mobile operators meant that there are already 4G services on the Jubilee Line between Canning Town and Westminster stations. 

Last month we saw the additions on the Central and Northern Lines outlined above. 

The target is for ticket halls, platforms and Underground tunnels throughout the London Underground network to have 4G and 5G connectivity by the end of 2024. 

Keep your eyes peeled for further announcements! 

Could Mobile Broadband Be Right For You?

If you think your rural home or business could benefit from 4G / 5G mobile broadband then please get in touch with our Wi-Fi experts. We operate across the South of England out of Hampshire, covering West Sussex, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. We are specialists in designing and deploying mobile broadband networks for those who struggle with the more traditional forms of broadband internet. 

Which UK City has the Fastest 5G Speeds? 

Opensignal, an independent global organisation who offer reports and insights into the world’s communication networks, have this month published data revealing the UK’s fastest locations for 5G mobile broadband.

The fastest city for 5G download speeds is Birmingham, coming in at 162.7 Mbps. The fastest region was the West Midlands with 151.4 Mbps 5G download speeds. 

Where does the data come from? 

The numbers in this report come from data collected across hundreds of thousands of devices like Smartphones between November 1st 2022 and January 29th 2023. Primary mobile network operators were then compared across different categories. 

Is 5G faster than 4G?

The study also reported on the uplift in mobile broadband speeds when devices went from a 4G to 5G network in various locations. 

The majority of users found 5G download speeds to be between 3.7 to 5.5 times faster than 4G. The biggest uplift was found in Reading, Berkshire where users enjoyed 5.5 times faster speeds on 5G. London however saw the lowest uplift at a rate of 3.7 times faster than 4G. 

With thanks to OpenSignal for the image 

Is 5G or 4G better in urban or rural areas? 

The report also studied the differences between rural and urban areas when it comes to 5G. You might think that there would be a difference in uplift between these types of areas, but there was actually little difference. For rural areas with 5G, the uplift was 4.7 times faster. In urban areas, the uplift for 5G was 4.5 times faster. 

With this being said, mobile broadband users in urban areas do see significantly faster download speeds on both 4G and 5G networks than those in more rural areas. On 4G networks, download speeds are 23.7% faster (5.8 Mbps) in urban areas. On 5G networks, download speeds are 20.1 Mbps which is 17.6% faster than rural areas. 

5G networks are more limited in rural areas with less coverage. Unsurprisingly, this means that users on a 5G network in an urban area spend more time with an active 5G connection than rural users (9.6% and 6.6% respectively. 

With thanks to OpenSignal for the image 

Where in the UK do users connect to 5G the most?

It will probably come as no surprise that it’s Londoners who are actively connected to 5G networks for the longest.

Unfortunately for us (as we’re based in Hampshire) the South East and South West come very near the bottom of the table when it comes to 5G availability and time spent connected to the network. 

Will mobile network coverage improve in rural areas?

As we mentioned above, the data from this report does reflect on there being a gap between the mobile experience of users in rural and urban areas. 

Thankfully, there is ongoing commitment and work happening to try and improve mobile connectivity in rural areas. 

The UK government and mobile network operators are currently working together on the Shared Rural Network programme to increase the geographic coverage of 4G networks. 

Last year in their 2022 Connected Nations report, Ofcom found that through the SRN and other initiatives, users should be able to get good mobile coverage from at least one operator across 92.2% of the UK. This is a rise of 0.3% from the year before so things are moving in the right direction.

Can Hot Weather Affect Your Phone Signal?

We’ve recently had the second heatwave of the year here in the UK, particularly the South of England with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees at our bases in Hampshire, London and Cardiff. 

Understatement of the year – It’s been very hot. And you might have noticed that during said heat wave, your 4G mobile phone signal has been affected 

Mobile network traffic is carried on radio waves, so the reception you get on your mobile phone can be affected by any kind of atmospheric conditions – including very hot weather. Just as you might find the weather affects your terrestrial radio signal! 

Weather in general, not just extreme heat, can directly (e.g. a thunderstorm with lightning causing electrical interference) and indirectly (change of season affecting mobile reception) effect 4G signal on your mobile phone or broadband service. 

How could a change of season affect network signal? Well, something as simple as the trees surrounding a property being bare in the Winter could mean that there is less interference to the reception coming in and going out. Come the Spring, the trees become covered with leaves, which could weaken and sometimes block the signal. 

But how does day-to-day weather affect 4G signal?

The most obvious weather affecting mobile phone coverage is stormy weather – Torrential rain and thunderstorms. Water and radio waves don’t really mix, so any water in the atmosphere is not good for your mobile signal. The frequencies used by mobile networks are hindered by any water – Not just rain and snow, but also fog, clouds and even high humidity. All of these types of weather can negatively impact your mobile phone signal. .

Why does water hinder 4G signal? Well, water conducts electricity, so any water vapour in the atmosphere can actually refract and reflect radio waves. Us Wi-Fi engineers call this the “propagation delay effect.”

What this means is that your mobile phone signal could be:

  • Weakened by interference
  • Disrupted or slowed down due to the signal taking longer to go between your device and the tower

Is the weather affecting my mobile phone reception?

We’re going to take a look at different types of weather now, and how each different weather conditional can interfere with the signal you get on your mobile phone or 4G device. 

Do extreme temperatures affect phone signal?

We’ll start with temperature as we’ve been enjoying such hot weather recently! Generally speaking, extremes of hot or cold weather on their own shouldn’t affect your mobile reception. 

You disagree? If you are experiencing issues with your 4G reception during extreme heat or very cold temperatures, it’s more likely to be due to what’s going on in the air and how the humidity is changing. 

Can rain affect my mobile phone reception? 

Rain is the weather that is most likely to negatively affect your 4G signal. In a rainstorm, the density o the water vapour in the air is highest – The heavier the rain, the more likely your 4G will be affected. 

Water vaoour in the air can also absorb the energy from the radio waves, reducing the reception your mobile phone can achieve. 

Can thunderstorms and lightning interfere with my 4G?

We’ve covered rain above, but actually thunderstorms even without heavy rain can cause real issues for mobile phone coverage. Because the lightning causes electrical interference, your 4G can struggle. 

Of course, lightning can also strike causing damage to cell towers and other network equipment which would obviously cause disruption to your local mobile network service. 

Does snow and hail make my mobile signal worse? 

You might think that snow or hail would be worse than rain, but generally it’s actually not as bad for phone reception. Snow flakes and hail stones are less dense than rain, so have less of an effect on mobile coverage. However, if we were to have very heavy snow, it can refract the radio waves and cause them to change direction which would cause problems with mobile signal and 4G. 

Does fog and cloud affect mobile phone signal? 

Whilst not as effective as rain at disrupting 4G signal, fog and cloud can still cause issues for mobile coverage because of the water vapour in the air. They still have the ability to cause localised problems with mobile reception by scattering radio waves. 

Can wind disrupt mobile phone signal? 

Just as with temperature, wind is unlikely to cause mobile coverage problems just as itself and shouldn’t affect your mobile signal if it’s unaccompanied by other weather. 

When it starts to cause problems for 4G signal is when the wind is joined by rain, snow or hail. Of course, with very high winds there is also the possibility of blowing down or damaging mobile network equipment and power lines, which could disrupt the service you get on your mobile. 

Is there anything I can do when the weather gives me poor mobile signal? 

There isn’t a great deal you can do if the weather is affecting your 4G signal and causing mobile coverage issues. You may find that a mobile phone signal booster could provide some reduction in disruption of mobile phone coverage due to poor weather conditions. 

A mobile phone signal booster works by taking the existing mobile signal and amplifying it, giving you better call quality, faster data and a more reliable signal for your phone or home. 

If you rely on your phone for work or use 4G broadband in your home, then this could be a good option for you to help ensure better coverage in bad weather. 

If the odd spot of bad weather isn’t going to cause you too much trouble by disrupting mobile coverage for a short while then you can probably grin and bear it – Ride out the storm! 

4G LTE Antenna – What Do I Need to Consider? 

If you are using a 4G LTE broadband connection, or plan to, then you’ll need to be considering your external antenna. 

 

4G broadband is a fantastic option if you struggle with a standard broadband connection, especially if you live or work in a more rural area. Over the past few years we’ve seen a big uptake in 4G and mobile broadband options – For homeowners as well as businesses. 

 

What you don’t want is to switch to mobile broadband, and then end up with download speeds that are lower that what you were expecting. Whilst this may simply be down to poor reception, there are some other factors that can come into play. 

 

So, with you as the user, what considerations do you need to make to ensure your 4G mobile broadband connection will be the strongest it can be?

 

Did you know that LTE is MiMo technology?

LTE, like 11n Wi-Fi, is a multi-stream radio, multiple in/multiple out (MiMo) service. So similarly to 11n Wi-Fi, LTE uses multiple radio data streams to and from the end client – Which means the more streams of data the client can take, the faster the broadband. 

Just like in 11n Wi-Fi, the number of streams is T (the number of transmit radio streams) multiplied by R (the number of receive streams the connection can support) so TxR. This means that if something supports 2×2 streams, it can support twice the upload and download speed of a device with 1×1. In 4G LTE, you get anything from 1×1 to 8×8 stream capability (including all the possible mixes in between them). 

The number of transmit and receive streams dictates how many antennas the client needs. So for a 1×1 service, you would only need a single antenna. For a 2×2 service you would need 2 antenna. You get the idea. 

A connection can only support the number of streams the service provider is capable of via their masts. It is also dependent on the client device and its radio capabilities. 

The majority of devices – Like phones and routers – have dual stream capabilities. 

 

Choices of Antenna

If you’ve already been looking for a 4G LTE antenna then you’ll likely already have realised that there can be a difference in price. One of the main differences between antennas will be, as we said above, the number of connections they have. 

 

As you’ll have probably guessed, the more connections they have, the picier the get. So a 2×2 (or 2×1 or 2×2) device will cost more than a 1×1 device. You’ll typically see a choice between single (1×1) and dual connection (2×2) antennas. 

 

In most scenarios, you will be wanting a dual connection (2×2) antenna so that it supports the functionality of your router and other devices with dual stream, MiMo functionality.

 

But how do you know if the antenna will be any good? 

 

That comes down to polarisation. There needs to be a physical difference between the radio streams so that the receiver can differentiate between them. This can be as simple as mounting the antennas, leaving a physical gap between them of a few inches. 

 

It’s also a good idea to have each antenna at a different angle – Ideally at 90 degrees to each other. This is because although the radio waves might leave the mast in a lovely vertically polarised fashion, after a few reflections they will likely not be like that any more. Setting up the antenna so that they can also receive radio waves that are no longer vertically polarised will mean you will better receive the signal – A cross shape would achieve this. 

 

Do I need a Directional or Omni-Directional Antenna Set Up? 

Whilst it might be tempting to just opt for the highest gain directional antenna, this isn’t actually always the best choice – For 4G LTE or Wi-Fi. 

 

If you imagine a radio wave travelling from the mast to your receiver, with nothing in the way, it would have a straightforward route and an uninterrupted signal. In real life, this is unfortunately not the case. The signal cannot go through anything solid, so whenever something gets in its way, it reflects and scatters from those objects until it reaches the antenna. This means that the radio signal could come to your receiver from all different directions. 

 

Directional antenna, although high gain, have limited coverage in terms of their angle. So with radio waves potentially coming in in all directions, the directional antenna is going to cause you problems. 

 

The best situation for a directional antenna is when there is a clear line of sight between the mast and the mount of the antenna – Which is not a very common thing. 

 

The omni-directional antenna might well be lower gain, but it should pick up the signal regardless of what directional the radio waves are coming from. 

 

The best way to improve the signal you receive is to mount the antenna outside and as high up as possible.

 

Directional Antenna Pros

  • Can occasionally give a better, stronger and cleaner signal when carefully aligned with line of sight 
  • With a clear line of sight (and no ambiguity) then a directional antenna would be preferred choice

Directional Antenna Cons

  • Careful alignment with line of sight can be very tricky
  • Without line of sight, you have to rely on how it reflects and scatters
  • Changes in environment can result in how the signal is reflected (e.g. something as simple as a dry wall reflects better than a wet wall)
  • It is harder for the system to switch to a different mast (this could be dictated by the provider)

 

Omni-Directional Antenna Pros

  • Easy and quick installation (no tricky, careful alignment needed)
  • It is easy for the system to change transmitter masts
  • Antenna can be mounted outdoors, making a significant improvement in signal despite the lower fain

 

Omni-Directional Antenna Cons

  • In comparison to the directional antenna, the omni has lower gain
  • Can be more susceptible to radio frequency interference coming from different directions

 

Frequency Bands

There are a number of frequency bands that are used for 4G LTE in the UK. There’s the 800MHz band, the 1400MHz / 1.4GHz band, the 1800MHz / 1.8GHz band, the 2100MHz / 2.6GHz band, the 2300MHz / 2.3GHz band, and the 2600MHz / 2.6GHz band.

 

Although not set in stone, you generally find that the lower frequency bands are used more in rural areas due to them having longer transmission range than the higher frequencies and having to cover a larger geographical area. The higher band would likely be used more in built up towns and cities. 

 

What does this mean for antenna? Well, it means that you, as the end user, need to ensure that your antenna will support the service and frequency band of your provider. If you are sensible and savvy, you will choose an antenna that can cover the different frequency bands in case your service/provider changes. 

 

Stream Bandwidth

The available spectrum is divided and allocated between providers into sub-bands. The connection you get as the end client will depend (and vary) on how many clients the local signal mast can support as well as the bandwidth. 

 

If you live or work in a high user area, the density will mean that you may struggle with throughput speed or even getting a connection in the first place! 

 

What high user density situations could impact your 4G connection? Well, if you live near a football stadium or a busy motorway, you may find that on match day or during a bad traffic jam, your internet connection comes to a standstill as well! 

 

Which Antenna Do I Need for my 4G LTE Connection? 

 

How do you choose? Let’s take a look again at the main considerations you need to think about to ensure the best possible connection. 

 

Single or Dual Antenna

 

Does your router only have a single antenna connector? If so, then you should probably choose an external antenna with a single connector. 

 

If your router has a dual stream connection then you need to choose an antenna with 2 connectors. You could also choose two single connection antennas. 

 

Remember – If the local signal mast sends out a 1×1 service, then that’s all you’re going to get, even if you have a router and antenna set up that supports 2×2. Having the 2×2 compatible service won’t see you any difference if it’s a 1×1 signal service.  

 

Directional or Omni-Directional Antenna? 

We’re not trying to tell you what to do… But our Wi-Fi expert’s advice would be, in most scenarios, to go for an omni-directional antenna. As we mentioned above, it’s tempted to just go straight for the antenna with the biggest gain, usually the directional, when you could face very tricky alignment issues. Very few properties, business or home, have a clear line of sight between their local mast and their antenna. Unless you have this clear line of sight, then an omni is the best option.  

Correct frequency

Remember to ensure that your choice of antenna will work with the frequency range coming from your service provider and local mast. It’s only going to work if your frequency band matches what your antenna supports! 

 

To avoid potential issues when services or providers change, you should aim to choose an antenna that covers all the 4G LTE bands here in the UK. That means that your antenna should always work, even if you change provider or your local service changes. You might have to pay a little more, but it could save you problems in the future. 

 

Location

You should always mount the antenna wherever it has the best line of sight to the local mast. Sometimes you might not be able to see the signal mast, especially if you live or work in a very built up area. Even if you cannot see the mast, bear in mind the direction it’s in – Does your antenna need to be at the front or the back of your building? Even without a clear line of sight, this will vastly improve the signal you get. 

 

Generally speaking, the higher up you can mount the antenna the better! 

 

Also make sure that you’re not locating it close to a thick wall or anything metal. Even an omni-directional antenna would struggle to get a good signal in these situations! You want to make it as easy as possible for the signal to reach the receiver on your antenna. 

 

I’ve followed the advice but still don’t have good download speeds? 

You could have the perfect signal – And still not get good download speeds. This could be down to a few different reasons:

  • The service capabilities of your provider (the frequency they are allocated)
  • The service provided from the local mast
  • The capabilities of your router
  • If you live or work in a high user density area with lots of people trying to connect at the same time

 

Whether or not this matters depends on what you are using your connection for. If you are a business and are relying on your 4G LTE connection for your business operations, then this is going to be an issue. 

 

Trust the Experts

 

Here at Geekabit, our Wi-Fi experts can tell you just how reliable a 4G (or 5G) mobile broadband connection would be with one of our surveys. 

 

If you’re struggling with wired broadband, and not getting the reliable internet connection you need in your rural business or home, then 4G / 5G could be a fantastic option for you.

 

It can feel like a big jump to give up on your wired broadband connection and opt for 4G – Which is where our Cell Coverage 4G survey comes in.

 

We can tell you exactly whether 4G broadband would work for you, and which network would be most reliable.

 

PCI: What Is The Difference Between 4G LTE and 5G NR

In this blog we are going to look at the difference between 4G LTE and 5G-NR, specifically in terms of PCI. 

 

What is PCI when it comes to 4G / 5G?

 

PCI is the Physical Cell ID and is one of the most important ways a cell identifies itself in a 4G or 5G wireless network.

The physical layer (or PHY-layer) Cell ID is what determines the Cell ID Group and Cell ID Sector, and it is this that is needed for DL synchronisation. 

DL (Downlink) Synchronisation is the process in which a UE (phone) detects the radio boundary and OFDM symbol boundary. In other words, the exact timing of when a radio frame or OFDM starts. (In telecommunications, orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) is a type of digital transmission and a method of encoding digital data on multiple carrier frequencies.) 

This DL synchronisation process is done by detecting and analysing the SS Block. From a UE’s (phone’s) point of view, Downlink is the ‘receiving’ transmitting direction. The SS Block (SSB) stands for Synchronisation Signal Block and refers to the synchronisation signal and Physical Broadcast Channel (PBCH) as a single block that always moves together.

 

Why is PCI Planning important? 

 

If you are planning, designing and deploying a 4G / 5G network, then PCI Planning will be one of your most important steps. 

Making sure your network is properly designed with PCI in mind will ensure your network works efficiently and increases how your resources are utilised. 

Excellent PCI planning ensures QoS for those who are subscribed to your 4G / 5G network.

QoS (Quality of Service) is the use of technologies to control traffic on your network, ensuring that the performance of critical applications meets requirements.

The key goal here is to use QoS and PCI Planning to enable your network to prioritise traffic, offering dedicated bandwidth and lower latency.

PCI is one of the technologies used to enhance performance of business applications, WANs and service provider networks. 

Poor planning in this area can result in PCI collisions and conflicts – Which in turn, negatively impact the overall performance of your network.

 

How is the PCI value created?

 

The PCI value is created from two components – PSS (Primary Synchronisation Signal) and SSS (Secondary Synchronisation Signal). 

The PSS is used to obtain the slot, ub-frame and half-frame boundary as well as providing the cell identity within the cell identity group. 

The SSS is used to obtain the radio frame boundary (10ms) as well as enabling the UE (phone) to determine the cell identity group.

After your UE (phone) has successfully decoded the PSS and SSS, it will be able to calculate the PCI. It uses the following formula:

PCI = (3 × SSS) + PSS

 

How is PCI calculated for 4G?

 

PSS has 3 values (0,1 and 2) and is created using the Zad-off Chu sequence.The PSS helps to accomplish slot and symbol synchronisation in the time domain.

SSS has 168 values (0 to 167) and is produced using concatenation (linking together in a series) of 2 m-sequences (max length sequence). The SSS helps to achieve radio frame synchronisation.

The formula to work out PCI for 4G is therefore:

PCI = (3 * 167) + 2 = 503

This means that there are PCI values varying from 0 to 503 LTE, which in turn supports 504 unique PCIs for 4G. 

 

How is PCI calculated for 5G?

 

PSS has 3 values (0,1 and 2) and created using m-sequence. 

SSS has 336 values (0 to 335) and is generated using the product of 2 m-sequences.

In 5G-NR (a new radio access technology developed by 3GPP for the 5G (fifth generation) mobile network), the basic structure of PSS is the same but the number of SSS is increased.

The formula to work out PCI for 4G is therefore:

PCI = (3 * 335) + 2 = 1007

So the PCI values will vary from 0 to 1007. This means that 5G-NR can support 1008 unique PCIs.

 

What does this difference in PCI between 4G and 5G actually mean? 

 

In the simplest terms, 5G-NR has double the number of PCI’s, compared to LTE 4G. 

5G has more Physical Cell IDs (the actual area that the cell antenna on a cell site is covering). Each 5G NR cell has a Physical Cel lD. 5G has 1008 unique possible Physical Cell ID’s, whereas 4G has only 504. 

So if we’re connected to Vodafone on Physical Cell ID No.1, but we could also see Vodafone signals being broadcast out of that cell tower on different cell antennas using Physical Cell ID No,2 and No3, then our mobile device would know to connect to No1. It would get confused if it connected to No.2 or No.3 and impact the quality of service.

The user device connects to the one physically nearest. So for example, a Vodafone tower has two cell antennas out the top broadcasting the Vodafone signal across an area, which will overlap to a small degree. A user’s device will always want to make sure it is connecting to the same one. You don’t want to connect to one antenna and back to another – It’s this that ruins the quality of service. So you will always try and connect back to the one you were talking to, which is normally geographically the one closest to you. 

The Physical Cell ID is used to identify each space. We don’t want those numbers to overlap too often, or our devices get confused and don’t know which to connect to. If a device can see a Physical Cell ID of 2, and there’s another cell antenna using an ID of 2, it wouldn’t know which one to communicate with.

It is beneficial to know that 5G-NR has more PCI’s available in the planning stages, to enable a higher quality of service (QoS) for end user devices.



Wi-Fi and Connectivity Options for Village Halls

Did you know that village halls in need of a bit of updating and renovation can apply for a share of a £3m fund, all in honour of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee?

 

This follows the tradition of village hall investments for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935. 

 

125 lucky village hall recipients will have a share of the £3m fund, which can be put towards renovations and building improvements including Wi-Fi.  

 

You might well be hosting or celebrating in your local village hall for this weekend’s Jubilee celebrations! Village halls are often the heart of communities, bringing people together. It’s vital these hubs stay well connected with strong, reliable Wi-Fi. 

Wi-Fi for Village Halls – A Quick Guide

If you’re a part of the committee that looks after your local village hall, then you’ll know that there is an ever-increasing need for these community buildings to offer broadband and Wi-Fi access to their users. 

 

Not only will this support a wide range of community activities and events, it will also enhance the facilities you can offer as a venue to those who hire your space. 

 

So what do you need to consider to improve digital connectivity for your communities and businesses by making sure your village hall is well connected? 

 

Get a Broadband Connection


Before even thinking about Wi-Fi or broadband, you need to make sure you have a telephone landline. The only exception is if you are able to get cable or fibre access to the hall. You can read more about FTTP in one of our previous blogs here. Make sure that you have a business contract rather than residential, as it will be for public use. 

 

To get a new telephone line, order one through BT.com. After that’s done, you can upgrade to broadband. Always make sure you check with the ISP that you are able to make your internet connection available to the public before placing your order. 

 

If you want to get broadband without a landline, you would need to be able to have a cable, full fibre or mobile broadband connection. More on that later! 

 

Not got an official postal address? Some village halls don’t actually have an official post office address which can cause problems with some ISP’s as they may insist that you have one in order to place an order. If you find this is the case, you can contact the Post Office and request an official address here.

 

Some ISP’s will accept what’s known as an ‘unserved’ building but they may ask to do an initial survey before they confirm your order.  

 

How much will it cost to install Wi-Fi in a village hall?

You will need to incur some costs to get Wi-Fi successfully set up in your village hall. Bear in mind the following likely outgoings:

  • Installation and connection costs for a new telephone line (plus VAT) and broadband connection (if required)
  • Line rental for the telephone line (ongoing costs)
  • Data usage charges from broadband / Wi-Fi use (ongoing costs)
  • Any work required to install the Wi-Fi router in a secure location, plus additional devices that may be needed to boost Wi-Fi signal 

 

You can help keep costs to a minimum by shopping around for the best contract available on price comparison websites. Remember you need a business contract, not a residential one! Make sure you balance out the costs with data usage limits and of course, reliability.

 

Remember though, making improvements with the Wi-Fi in your village hall is investing in its successful future. It’s vital that these community hubs are well connected for their users. And even better if you can get the costs covered by securing part of the £3m Jubilee fund!

 

Security

 

We cannot express enough how important it is to make sure that your Wi-Fi is secure. You should manage and filter the access to your Wi-Fi signal. 

 

If you were to allow unmanaged access to your Wi-Fi, people may use your broadband connection for illegal purposes. By providing the Wi-Fi for this, you could be liable. 

 

Luckily for you, it’s super easy to manage your Wi-Fi security – And definitely not something that should put you off setting up a Wi-Fi connection in your village hall. 

 

To minimise the risk of inappropriate use, you should:

 

  • Install your router in a secure place where only authorised users are able to physically access it. Don’t let people connect to your router via Ethernet cable as they could make changes.
  • Routers usually display the passwords you need in order to manage and access your Wi-Fi connection. If you think it’s possible for unauthorised users to access this information, then consider changing the User ID and admin password (instructions on how to do this should be in your router user guide).
  • Regularly change your Wi-Fi access password for users. This means that only current users will be able to use your Wi-Fi connection, rather than someone who isn’t authorised or is re-using a password they’ve previously been issued with.
  • Always ensure that the parental control setting is switched on. This prevents access to any unsuitable websites on your Wi-Fi connection. You can use your router manual to set appropriate firewall settings to set the level of restriction required. 

 

 

The router in our village hall doesn’t reach the whole building

 

If you already have a router installed in your village hall, but it’s not reaching far enough and you’re struggling with black spots or slower Wi-Fi in certain places then you may need to extend your Wi-Fi coverage. 

 

This is particularly relevant if you have a large village hall building – The signal just may not be strong enough to reach everywhere it needs to from one router. 

 

We mentioned above that it’s important for the router to be in a secure area so unauthorised people cannot access it. This could mean that it’s been placed in a less than ideal location for signal strength and connectivity. It’s vital to balance the two! 

 

Ideally, you will be able to place the router in a central location, but if that is not the case then you may need to install other devices to extend the signal to other locations within your village hall building. You could potentially use a powerline adapter or a Wi-Fi extender to boost the signal strength and get wider Wi-Fi coverage in the building. 

 

Mobile Broadband for Rural Village Halls

You and your users might not be in London, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t expect the same Wi-Fi connection that you get in urban areas – Despite being in more rural ones. 

 

Unfortunately there are many parts of the countryside that are suffering from a broadband deficit – Indeed, there seems to be a connectivity imbalance across the countryside, with many village halls struggling.

Over the past year particularly, we’ve installed countless numbers of external 4G antennas and routers in rural areas, effectively replacing the broadband through the telephone cable using a data SIM card.

 

You can read more about our 4G Mobile Broadband solutions in a previous blog of ours here

 

If you are wary about whether Mobile Broadband could work in your more rural village hall, then our Cellular Survey could be just what you need. We can map the availability of cellular and data coverage within a building and report the details of phone coverage for 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE and 5G. We can measure the cellular connectivity, data upload and download speeds and the occurrence of dropped and failed calls for all the main mobile network operators. You can read more about this here

 

Want to know more about how Geekabit could help get your village hall connected?

For further information about securing a strong Wi-Fi connection in your village hall, please email our Wi-Fi experts at info@geekabit.co.uk and someone will be in touch as soon as possible.

 

We work out of London, Hampshire and Cardiff, covering community buildings, businesses and larger residential properties.