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BT's Wireless Re-Entry Starts With Small Cells

Sarah Thomas

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Genband Perspectives -- BT is working its way back into wireless after a 12-year-plus absence, and its push to re-enter the market will come through low-cost LTE small cells.

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), which offers fiber, TV, and managed services, is looking to build a low-cost, highly effective self-organizing network of small cells in homes and offices, according to Clive Selley, CEO of the operator's service and operations and group CIO. He said here Tuesday that the operator will capture the data traffic from its small cell deployment over its fiber broadband network, create a new LTE core using the newly licensed spectrum it bought last year, and broker an MVNO relationship for roaming outside these locations. (See Euronews: BT Signs 4G MVNO Deal and Euronews: BT's Back in Wireless.)

"This is our inside-out strategy," he said. "We believe it's novel, and we believe it will be very disruptive."

The UK is unique in that it has five national mobile operators to cover only 60 million people, which is why Selley said he knew BT had to take a different approach. Since 70% of data usage is in the home or office, where cellular connectivity is often poor, small cells made the most sense.

The company also stands to gain from the fact that its competitors' LTE networks are experiencing dramatically rising data usage. As the incumbent wireline telco, BT operates the UK's biggest core network. It has a high-bandwidth fiber broadband pipe to two-thirds of homes there -- that figure is on its way to 90% -- and it operates 5 million WiFi hotspots. This is capacity it can use for its own services and wholesale to its competitors for backhaul. (See Euronews: BT, AlcaLu Claim Fiber Speed Record.)

The BT man also sees potential for the company in enterprise voice. It has been working with Genband Inc. for the past few years to design and build what it calls a session distributed interworking network (SDIN), the core platform for BT's current and future IP-based voice and multimedia products such as HD voice and video calling. In time, this will replace its PSTN core, Selley said. BT plans to bring the network outside the UK with hubs around the world. (See BT Deploys Genband's Diameter Signaling Controller.)

"We expect traffic volumes to double and the size of SDIN network to double again," he said. "It's genuinely scalable. It scales readily as we grow our customers and services."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
6/11/2014 | 7:38:20 AM
Re: Five Networks?
By the way, we really don't have five networks. There used to be 5 operators, but then Orange and T-Mobile merged to form EE. And T-Mobile was already network sharing with Three, so in some senses those three networks became one. Since then, O2 and Vodafone have split the country between them, resulting in, by some measures, only two networks for four operators. 

So BT would be the fifth operator, with the third network.

(And I'm ignoring UK Broadband here, who are providing a London-only, fixed-only LTE network with their 3.5 GHz spectrum. )


User Rank: Light Beer
6/11/2014 | 7:34:17 AM
Re: Five Networks?
The UK is certainly one of the most competitive mobile markets and on the whole that is good for consumers. 

But there is a dark side: low prices (ARPU is about 1/3 that in the US) also mean there is a lack of revenue to fund infrastructure investment. So coverage is a real challenge, despite the relatively high population density and small overall size of our sceptered isle.

That's why findings ways to reduce barriers to wider, deeper deployments is important, as well as enabling new market entry. BT's interest in small cells fits in both those categories. It could also serve to 'up the ante', giving existing operators more reason to innovate.
User Rank: Light Beer
6/11/2014 | 7:29:45 AM
Re: No wireless?
Yes it does seem surprising! BT used to have BTCellnet, which later became O2 and was spun out of BT in 2002.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
6/10/2014 | 11:39:16 PM
No wireless?
Am I reading this right? A major carrier in the developed world has no wireless offerings here in 2014? It's like an airline without jets.
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/10/2014 | 7:28:19 PM
Five Networks?
Five competing networks for 60 million people? Customer offerings must be really good in a competitive market like that! 

In the United States, there are basically two major players and then some niche powerhouses. I don't know if things are structured like that over the pond. But if there are many quality rivals in an industry like this, it is very good for consumers and businesses alike. 
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