BT's consumer mobe network suffers tech snags – but telco denies delay claims

'We always said femtocell service would take two years'

BT's return to the consumer mobile market is reportedly being hampered by technical difficulties but the company has denied that the problems could force it to delay its plans.

According to the Telegraph, which cited anonymous sources, BT is continuing to wrestle with carrying voice calls and data traffic over Wi-Fi networks.

The apparent snag involving the "handover" between Wi-Fi and the mobile network could be bad for BT's business as it had hoped to undercut competitors by keeping the costs down, the newspaper reported.

A BT spokesman told The Register it was "not right" to say that the telecoms giant was struggling with technical issues on its mobile network that could possibly delay its re-entry into the consumer market, however.

The company added in an official statement:

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.

BT Mobile confirmed it was switching from Vodafone's network to EE's in October last year. As we wrote at the time, the move signalled that the company was once again aggressively pursuing the mobile space it departed when it sold off Cellnet (which later became O2) in 2002.

The former state monopoly said at the end of 2013 that its 4G spectrum would "extend Wi-Fi using licensed spectrum for great range, quality of service guarantee for voice and video which integrates seamlessly."

Meanwhile, our own Simon Rockman pointed out some time ago that BT's strategy posed some "interesting technical hurdles." He said in April:

If BT wants to have seamless voice and video from its Wi-Fi to LTE that's tough. Signalling hand-off is complex. If it wants to do voice through EE and is asking EE to support VoLTE to 3G fallback, that's something a lot of people are working on but no one can do reliably yet.

Handing off from BT Wi-Fi or BT's 2.6GHz to EE on 2G, 3G or even LTE is a very interesting proposition – with all kinds of billing system implications as well as the significantly non-trivial voice-routing issues.

In a nutshell, the more traffic that is carried over 4G, the more cash BT will have to pay to EE, thereby forcing the telco to raise its costs. Hardly an ideal strategy for a return to the consumer mobile market.

BT chief Gavin Patterson said in May (PDF: page 12, slide 35) that "In terms of the timeframe, it will take two years, the best part of two years to put it all together. But we'll be launching products and services throughout that period."

He added at the time that the new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) deal it had inked with EE was "much more competitively priced, with access to all the key technologies." ®

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