A first look at EE’s live 5G site in Canary Wharf

A closer look at EE's live 5G trial in London.

At the start of October, EE opened a live 5G site, operating commercial 5G base station equipment and antennas from Huawei in the 40MHz of commercial 3.5GHz spectrum it recently acquired. 

The operator is about to make a handful of other sites in London live, so TMN took a look at the deployment to see what we can learn about EE’s 5G plans.

The site of the trial, with the 5G antenna panel to the top of the tower and the LTE below.

The Huawei 5G NG base station uses 40MHz bandwidth in the 3.5GHz band, operating 8T8R MIMO. 8T8R puts EE ahead of early device capability, but it wants to be ahead of devices in its network capability.

The NSA set-up uses a 15 MHz LTE anchor at 2.1GHz and 15MHz at 2.6GHz. The core (EPC) is lab-based, but otherwise provides full connectivity.

Note that this combination will not in fact be mirrored as EE’s actual go live configuration for 5G rollouts. It is not using its 1800MHz (band 3) LTE as an anchor in the Canary Wharf trial, but its actual consumer launch configuration is likely to be the 40MHz 3.5GHz 5G NR, along with five component LTE carrier aggregation with its Band 3 as the base: 2 x 20MHz carriers at 1800MHz, 15MHz at 2.1GHz, plus 20MHz and 15MHz at 2.6GHz.

Similarly, its other London trials about to come on line will have a slightly different LTE anchor set-up to the Canary Wharf trial.

PERFORMANCE

The indoor Mobile Test Platform, with the 8T8R-capable antenna above.

A Huawei indoor 5G CPE wireless router has been delivering user speeds of a few hundred Mbps. A streamed 4K video will load with very little to no buffering or wait time.

The operator has also set up a mobile terminal test platform, which can operate full 8T8R rather than the Huawei CPE’s 4T2R, and simulates the internals of a 5G NR device in terms of CPU, power, electrics, etc. This test platform has achieved much higher speeds, up to 1.5 Gbps with very low latency. 

It seems that the operator will incorporate smartphone-sized reference devices into its trial as soon as it can.

It has also been able to use the trial to model performance due to changing conditions, and monitor RF performance in a real urban environment.

POSSIBLE FUTURE PLANS

5G in a box, EE’s demo centre in London’s Canary Wharf area.

EE has pretty much the perfect site partner in Canary Wharf Group Plc because the landowner owns everything in the area, from the duct under the street to the street furniture. That means that, for example, getting power to the site took just a day, instead of weeks, and so on. The antennas are on a temporary tower but in time will move to a permanent concrete plinth (actually the back of a lift shaft). Other sites may not be so easy to plan and deploy, but EE is taking the opportunity to extend its partnership with Canary Wharf.

It has near-term plans for an autonomous and connected driving rink in the square, as well as a connected drone demo. Another use case that it is exploring is the concept of turning the antenna upwards to send signal into a residential block currently in development – providing coverage as a replacement or addition to in-building fibre connectivity. This idea mirrors a FWA use case for 5G as has been much-discussed but at the lower, midband, spectrum range rather than mmWave.

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