Brits Braced for 4G

The U.K.'s largest mobile operator EE today unveiled plans to launch the country's first major 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) service within weeks and roll out extensive 4G and new fiber broadband access services across the country by the end of this year.

And, to the relief of most, the company -- a joint venture between Orange UK and T-Mobile (UK) with about 27 million subscribers -- also unveiled a new brand to replace the preposterous Everything Everywhere moniker. From now on, the carrier will be known simply as EE. [Ed note: How much better is that, exactly?]

But the Orange and T-Mobile brands aren't going away just yet, as they will co-exist with the new EE brand. Orange and T-Mobile retail shops will be made over as EE stores but they will serve customers of all three brands.

Where's the 4G, EE?
EE said today that it has switched on LTE networks for testing in London, Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham and that the 4G services will be launched commercially in those cities for consumers and businesses "in the coming weeks."

By the end of this year, the operator said it aims to launch 4G services in another 12 cities, covering about 33 percent of the British population, which is about 20 million people. Those cities are Belfast, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Sheffield and Southampton.

For its long-term 4G rollout plans, EE said it aims to have 70 percent of the population covered in 2013 and 98 percent of the population covered by 2014.

What about 4G devices?
The 4G service will launch with at least seven devices. The first five confirmed smartphones are Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC)'s Galaxy SIII LTE, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)'s Lumia 820 and 920 (which have attracted a lot of attention during the past week), High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498)'s One XL and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. 's Ascend P1 LTE. (See Euronews: Nokia Fakes Lumia 920 Ad, Analyst Labels Latest Lumia Launch as 'Tepid' and Nokia Lights Up Windows Phone 8 Devices.)

EE also has two dongles from Huawei in its 4G gadget starting line-up: the E589 Mobile Wi-Fi device and the E392 Mobile Broadband Stick.

EE adds fiber to its broadband diet
To go with its shiny new mobile broadband network, EE has also souped up its fixed broadband offering with a new fiber access service, which will launch at the same time as EE's 4G service. EE said the fiber broadband service will be available to 11 million households and businesses by the end of the year and will cover about 66 percent of households and businesses in the country by the end of 2014.

Why this matters
This will be the first major LTE launch in the U.K., so it's a big deal. But the development is steeped in controversy. EE has been allowed a head start on its LTE service rivals thanks to a decision by U.K. regulator Ofcom last month that allowed EE to use its existing 1800MHz spectrum for 4G. (See Euronews: Orange/T-Mob JV Given 4G Head Start and Ofcom Allows EE to Go Early on 4G.)

Other U.K. operators won't be able to launch LTE services until at least September 2013 (in the case of Three UK ) or late 2013 (in the case of Telefónica UK Ltd. O2 or Vodafone UK ), as new spectrum has still to be auctioned, cleared and allocated.

EE rivals O2 and Vodafone vehemently opposed Ofcom's decision, sparking speculation that they could hold up EE's 4G service launch by suing the regulator. But such a move, in turn, could result in another delay of the upcoming 4G auction in the country.

According to Matthew Howett, telecom analyst at Ovum Ltd. , there is always going to be a risk that the other operators will launch a legal challenge, but "the incentive to challenge has changed slightly." A lawsuit could damage operators' reputations and could be perceived as stalling, he explained.

So while EE has laid out its plans today for 4G services and network coverage, as well as its new corporate identity, uncertainty still hovers over the launch of the new mobile broadband services ahead of the U.K.'s 4G auction.

The main missing piece of information about EE's 4G service is the price. The operator did not reveal how much the new services will cost.

For more

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 5:21:23 PM
re: Brits Braced for 4G

O2, Vodafone and 3 cannot be happy about EE's head start on LTE in the U.K. But would any of them really opt to disrupt the whole U.K. next-gen mobile market by tying things up in the courts? They really wouldn't look good if they were seen to be the ones delaying Britain getting 4G.

Besides, O2 and Vodafone each have 900MHz spectrum that they could use for LTE if they wanted to. Why don't they go for that? What's the network equipment and device support like for LTE at 900 these days? Nokia's latest Lumia (the 920) supports it, so there's one, anyway. 

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 5:21:22 PM
re: Brits Braced for 4G

Michelle, Do you think you will be an early adopter of this?

Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 5:21:22 PM
re: Brits Braced for 4G

Ha, just when my Orange contract was coming to an end and I was thinking of leaving them, they go and launch 4G!

Soooo, I may well be an early adopter -- now that would be a first!

digits 12/5/2012 | 5:21:19 PM
re: Brits Braced for 4G

Would you consider a Lumia if you sign up forn the EE 4G service?

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 5:21:18 PM
re: Brits Braced for 4G

I would consider a Lumia. But I'd also wait until it became clear that I'd get coverage from EE's new LTE network. It could be that by the time LTE coverage comes to the areas I live and work, the Lumia is old news.

Anyway, I've assumed the brace position. Waiting for the LTE hit.

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