EE launches first UK 4G LTE network, defends pricing
It's been exciting times for the UK this week as its first commercially available superfast 4G LTE service launched across 11 major cities.
EE, a joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile UK received the go-ahead to launch the service ahead of rivals Vodafone, O2 and Three, following months of legal wrangling over promised spectrum auctions.
“Today is a landmark day for our company, the UK mobile industry and, most importantly, the country’s businesses and consumers,” said Olaf Swantee, CEO at EE, the 4G brand of Everything Everywhere.
“We’re investing £1.5 billion in our network to be the first company to offer mobile 4G in the UK, alongside the biggest 3G network.”
The service is currently available in Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton. EE is reusing spectrum it already owns to be able to launch this service months before any of its rivals.
This sees the UK catching up with other countries that have been o9ffering LTE networks for some time, with almost 74% of UK businesses planning to implement the increased connectivity potential in the near future, according to research from EE.
However, the network’s pricing structures have come in for criticism, with consumer complaining that the minimum £36 per month tariff would only allow for a few minutes of hi-def movie streaming as their phone burns through their data allowance.
The operator responded that its prices had been set in line with typical demand. The average usage on a £36 a month plan on its Orange 3G brand was just over 400MB, it said.
"EE provides many more options for customers who have a heavier data requirement," a spokesman said. "Our top plan with an 8GB data limit provides customers with eight times more data than is used by an average unlimited user today."
The pricing may hint at the operator's strategy for the fututre, accoring to industry analyst and TelecomsTech contributor Ovum.
“While the pricing positions the brand at the high end of the market, the premium it is charging isn’t as high as those seen in other countries," said Steven Hartley, principal telco strategy analyst at Ovum. "This suggests that EE will aggressively target its rivals’ most valuable customers.
“Considering the high premiums charged for LTE at launch by other European operators, EE’s proposition is refreshing, even if it will not appeal to everyone’s budget.”
Despite the likely expense, this will be seen by many UK businesses and consumers as a welcome development. By allowing this, the UK regulator Ofcom has finally kick-started a process that will see rival operators required to purchase remaining 4G spectrum in an auction next year. The auction was previously delayed a number of times due to disagreements between the various stakeholders.
However, with EE promising to add 2,000 square miles of coverage to its network every month, four more cities by the end of this year and to have 98% of the UK covered by the end of 2014, we suspect rival operators will want the spectrum allocations complete as soon as possible.