EE, currently the only mobile carrier offering 4G LTE services in the UK, plans to double the speed of its mobile data network in the country’s 10 biggest cities to 130 megabits per second, as it braces itself for competition from other carriers that are scrambling to get their own LTE networks up and running. In a presentation this morning in London, Olaf Swantee, EE’s CEO, also says that the carrier is aiming to pass 1 million subscribers by the end of 2013, equivalent to about 8% of its overall user base, which is currently at 27 million subscribers.
This represents a pretty ambitious goal for EE. In February, it noted that it had picked up only 201,000 users in the four months since launch; those were 3G and 4G users, so at the time we didn’t know how many of those were on LTE. Today, Swantee noted that one out of every four new customers have selected 4G services. Doing a bit of back of napkin math that’s only around 50,000 new 4G users — meaning that it is betting big on accelerated adoption as well as a successful plan to migrate some of its existing users.
But at the same time EE also continues to offer its 4G calling plans at premium prices, a function of it being the only 4G operator at the moment and therefore milking that monopoly for as long as it can before prices have to drop in the face of competition.
“We are setting 4G limits that other players cannot match,” he told a group of journalists. The company, which is a JV between France Telecom’s Orange and T-Mobile, has about 36% of all the spectrum available for 4G services — the most of any carrier, with Vodafone second at 28% of spectrum. The full breakdown of who won what in the spectrum auction is here.
The list of 10 cities that will get the boosted speeds are Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield.
It’s important to note that the 130Mbps are “lab speeds,” meaning that realistically they will be slower for now. EE says that the first city where it has already started to boost its network, Cardiff, has “headline” speeds of 80Mbps on its network. As a point of comparison, speeds on the network are typically around 20Mbps on average.
The carrier is also boosting capacity for 4G services. Is says it is doubling the amount of 1800MHz spectrum bandwidth dedicated to 4G, from 10MHz to 20MHz, meaning less congestion when it does have lots of users simultaneously trying to access YouTube on its network. “This will give 4GEE customers… access to some of the fastest mobile speeds in the world, reinstating the UK as a leader in mobile and digital communications,” it notes.
EE’s wider goal is to have 98% coverage of the UK’s population by 2014, with 80 cities and towns by the end of June, Swantee said.