U.K.’s First 4G Network To Expand To 17 More Towns By March 2013; Carrier EE Also Upgrading 3G To Fastest Variant: DC-HSPA

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EE, the carrier behind the U.K.’s first 4G network has announced its rollout will expand to 17 more towns by March 2013. It will also increase the network density in metropolitan areas already covered by its rollout.

The 17 towns that will get 4G by March are: Bradford, Chelmsford, Coventry, Doncaster, Dudley, Leicester, Luton, Newport, Reading, Rotherham, St Albans, Sunderland, Sutton Coldfield, Walsall, Watford, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton. Once this phase of the rollout is complete EE’s 4G network will reach approximately four million more people across the UK. It’s aiming for 98 percent population coverage by the end of 2014.

EE’s 4G is currently available in 14 UK towns and cities: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Southampton. Four more will be switched on by the end of the year: Belfast, Hull, Maidenhead and Slough — bringing the 2012 total to 18, two more than EE original planned at this stage of its rollout.

The carrier said it is continuing to bolster network density in areas where it has flicked the 4G switch, by enabling 4G on “an increasing number of masts”. Engineering work will continue in each area until 4G coverage “matches that of the EE 2G and 3G network”, it said. It is also upgrading its network’s mobile backhaul to support “superfast speeds” — adding Gigabit Ethernet capacity.

EE has previously declined to specify how many people have signed up for 4G — beyond saying “thousands” had signed up for 4G and its new fibre broadband product. Today it has repeated that “thousands” of new customers are signing up, so it’s difficult to quantify the level of demand for 4G.

According to Olaf Swantee, Chief Executive Officer, EE, businesses are particularly keen on upgrading. “[4G] has struck a chord with businesses in particular, with great demand being seen,” he said in another rather non-specific statement.

In addition to rolling out 4G, EE is also upgrading its 3G network — to the fastest variant: DC-HSPA. By the end of the year it said DC-HSPA will be live on 40 percent of its network. 3G still plays a crucial in-fill role for its 4G network in the areas where 4G has not been enabled — since effectively people signing up for 4G are going to be using 3G a lot of the time if they do a lot of traveling around the U.K.

Mobile users need a DC-HSPA compatible handset to experience its faster 3G speeds.