Packet core

EE Gets Smart With Its LTE Assets

Everything Everywhere Ltd. (EE), the U.K.'s biggest mobile operator, is hammering home its mobile broadband advantage by boosting the speed and capacity of its LTE network and lining up LTE-Advanced tests before its rivals have even launched an initial 4G service. Its strategy, which involves re-farming its existing 1800MHz spectrum to boost 4G service performance, is "a case study in LTE deployment," according to a leading industry analyst. EE has a head start on Telefónica UK Ltd. (O2), Hutchison 3G UK Ltd. (3) and Vodafone Group plc, having launched its LTE-based service in October 2012, while its rivals only recently secured the licenses needed to join the 4G services market and are now preparing their launches. (See EE Expands Its 4G Coverage, UK 4G Auction Falls Short and Euronews: 4G Arrives in UK.) And while its customer support services have left users frustrated, the quality of the 4G service has impressed analysts and reporters. (See How Not to Do 4G, EE-Style and EE's LTE Service.) Now, with its 4G service already available in 50 towns and cities across the U.K. (covering about 50 percent of the population), EE is doubling the amount of 1800MHz-band spectrum that it dedicates to its 4G service from 10MHz to 20MHz, a move that should double average 4G downstream connections to more than 20 Mbit/s and enable top speeds of around 80 Mbit/s. The operator also stated its intention to "always offer the fastest network in the U.K." (There's a 4G gauntlet thrown down right there...) That upgrade will take place in 10 U.K. cities within the next few months, with customers getting the benefits as part of their existing packages. EE is hoping the move will help attract more 4G customers and help it hit an end-of-year target of 1 million 4G users. "It's refreshing to see a U.K. operator double-down on network performance again," says Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown. "Doubling the headline rate is good marketing. Existing users will get an automatic upgrade and it won't be easy for other U.K. operators to replicate the offer, given their relative spectrum positions. It's a good strategy and sets a high bar for competitor LTE launches later this year," adds Brown. And EE isn't stopping there. Before 2013 is out, EE intends to trial LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation, by which spectrum from different bands is combined to boost capacity and performance. EE has spectrum in the 800MHz, 1800MHz, 2.1GHz and 2.6GHz bands. It is also updating its packet core capabilities to enable voice-over-Wi-Fi and voice and video calls over LTE (VoLTE). All these developments are pushing EE into the global 4G spotlight, according to Heavy Reading's Brown. "The EE network is a case study in LTE deployment and spectrum re-farming at 1800MHz," he notes. "This is an important band internationally and with the operator looking to launch VoLTE next year, and perhaps even LTE Advanced, it is establishing a reputation in network technology." Ovum Ltd. telecom regulation analyst Matthew Howett agrees that EE is setting an example for other 4G players with similar assets. "The 1800MHz band has rapidly become one of the most important bands for LTE. One of the key benefits is the capex savings enabled by re-farming existing 1800MHz spectrum, which allows operators like EE to utilize existing sites and masts and make such rollouts possible," he said in an email issued to the media. He also believes EE is capitalizing on its unique position in the U.K. "By doubling the amount of spectrum it is using for 4G, it will effectively double the speed and capacity of the network. Given EE’s large and contiguous holding of spectrum at 1800MHz, this puts them in a very strong position and makes it more difficult for their peers to play catch-up once they launch networks in the coming weeks and months," adds Howett. — Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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