3G Connections Over 15km

Some time ago I reported how Telstra and Ericsson have implemented UMTS cell ranges of 200km. This is mainly designed for very rural areas and I am not quite sure what kind of terminal is required at this distance to communicate with the cell tower. I very much doubt a normal cell phone will do. While I was trying out a new Vodafone data roaming offer, however, I tested a UMTS connection while being in Germany with a cell tower of Swisscom in Switzerland.

The place I live in Germany is close to the Lake of Constance and obviously the cell tower of Swisscom has to be on the other side of the lake. I am not sure of the exact distance to the UMTS base station but on a map the shortest direct line of sight from my veranda to the other side is 15 km. My veranda is also slightly elevated and I can see the other side of the lake from there. Thus, I have a direct line of sight connection over that distance and there are no blocking obstacles such as buildings or hills in between. Usually, the antennas of 3G cells are directed a bit downwards to only cover a range of 1 or 2 km. In this case, however, the antenna is adjusted differently to cover as much of the lake as possible. This has the interesting effect that I can still receive the network 5 km inland on German territory.

I didn’t only see the Swisscom 3G network in the network search screen but I could also connect to it, establish an Internet connection and surf on some web pages. The speed was not great but it worked o.k. So while it was certainly not 200km, it’s interesting to see that a "non turbo charged" UMTS network works over such distances.

At this distance, network coverage is not very strong. When I moved between the antenna of the HSDPA card and the lake, the connection was immediately lost. A clear sign that the only thing that keeps this connection going is the line of sight environment.