Today Olaf Swantee, the CEO of UK carrier Everything Everywhere, newly dubbed EE, confirmed that announced that finally, LTE was coming to the UK. In fact, it’s here already. As you read this, shiny new LTE 1800 signals are shooting out from masts in four of the launch cities that have been turned on today for testing purposes, these being London, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol.
A word on the brand name change: Everything Everywhere to EE. It may not be the greatest name for a network, but it’s a darn sight better than the awkward, cumbersome Everything Everywhere, and as Olaf pointed out, it’s what the media refer to the network as anyway, and a link to what has gone before. A good move then.
The operator chose London’s Science Museum, home of so many technological innovations, as the location for its EE launch, a fitting venue for what EE CEO Olaf Swantee described as the, “communications equivalent of the change that jet made over steam”. The EE network he said would become, “as important to the country as the roads, the railways and the airports. This digital backbone will unlock new trade routes, unleash healthcare and create a host of opportunities that we haven’t been thought of yet. It will enable Britain to become a more modern, digital country, truly connected to itself, its neighbours and the world.”
By the end of the year the EE LTE network will be live commercially in 16 cities, the others being Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Belfast, Southampton, Hull, Nottingham and Derby. This will cover 20 million people, about a third of the UK population.
Fortunately those in other areas won’t have to wait too long, with the network rolling out during 2013 to the rest of the country and 98 per cent of the population by 2014. While a couple of years may seem a long way away, compared to the inertia regarding LTE only a few months ago, it’s relative light-speed.
No details were give on an exact full commercial launch date but we did get to hear about the five launch handsets, the Samsung Galaxy SIII, the HTC One XL, the Huawei Ascend P1 LTE and both new Windows 8 powered Nokias, the Lumia 820 and 920. There’s also the Huawei E589 Mobile WiFi mifi and the Huawei E392 mobile broadband USB. It seems like a very strong line up, but Olaf gave a very strong hint that there was more major news to come saying, “one more thing, more devices to come”. I think we know what that means.
Of course the other major networks may not be happy at the year lead that regulator Ofcom has given them by allowing EE, the merger of T-Mobile and Orange, to refarm its 1800 2G signals for 4G, but it seems unlikely that EE would have made a big a noise as it has today about the launch if it felt it was in danger of being held up by litigation. At this point Vodafone and O2 would probably have more to lose than to gain by holding up LTE in the UK any longer.
It seems than the from seemingly last place, the UK could pull it out the bag and come from behind to take the lead for 4G, ahead of major economies such as France and Germany that have already had a head start of the 4G race.
It’s been a long road for EE to get here but the master stroke was having 1800 spectrum spare, which came about when France Telecom and Deutsche Telecom agreed to merge their UK brands into a single network. It is this that has enabled it to make the leap forward it has today, and potentially get a valuable lead in the UK 4G market. Of course how effective that will be will much depend on how competitively it sets out its pricing. While the speeds of 5-6x that of 3G are not to be sniffed at, it won’t be as exciting for the country if average consumers are priced out of the market.
It could go that way of course. Orange and T-Mobile will remain but will be hived off as 3G-only with EE becoming a premium 4G brand. This would hint that not everyone using the EE network will be switching to LTE immediately, possibly because it will require a new device, and tariff pricing will make it a premium option.
There could also be some confusion, as all EE customers will see EE displayed on their phones, regardless of whether they are on 3G or LTE.
The nonsense that was spouted by EE about its rather underwhelming new logo can be forgiven, or at least ignored, but Boris Johnson description of it as a “pollen count dot idea” is better than what EE itself presented to us.
Ah Boris, after an incredible summer of British sporting and organisational achievement that was the Olympics and Para Olympics, the London mayor has been handed another fantastic boon – a city soon to be swathed in 4G signals. A good move of EE to bring him on board for a typically highly amusing speech, where he managed to get away with thanking EE rival Vodafone for sponsoring the Olympics, and declare his love of “gizmos spouting data”. (scroll down and click link to listen to his amusing speech).
Also mentioned by Olaf, was the introduction of ‘superfast fibre’, under the EE brand, but while I was hoping this might be some revolutionary fibre to the home, it’s in fact offering speeds up to 76Mbps, so most likely just using incumbent BT’s wholesale network. Even so, as a combined offering under the EE brand, offering 4G LTE and fast fibre seems like a very strong play.
Many details still need to be fleshed out, in particular regarding pricing, but it’s hard to come away from the day’s news without an optimistic feeling that with EE’s move in LTE the UK will finally be able to compete and even lead the way for mobile broadband. Like Andy Murray, after years of waiting, we could finally be getting the grand slam network we’ve been waiting for.