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With LTE deployments making huge strides in the US and parts of Asia it seemed as though the UK was getting left behind when it came to next generation mobile broadband. However, that all changed earlier this week when UK operator Everything Everywhere, announced a that it was changing its name to EE, and would be launching an LTE network across 16 major cities by the end of the year. In fact, it has already turned on LTE in four cities, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and London. At the launch we caught up with Tom Bennett: director of network services and devices, EE to ask him some more details about EE’s launch plans.

Do you have an exact date for launch?

We’re turning on 4G on the four cities that we’ve mentioned – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and London and that’s for engineering and optimisation tests. It will take a while before activation and it being ready for us to say yes, now our customers can come and use it. We’ve done testing already but not on this scale, where we’re talking about cities rather than small clusters.

What changes and changes and preparations have you been making to the network on the RAN and core?

So LTE is a brand new network so is entirely separate from 3G and 2G. The preparation for us was a modernisation of our 2G equipment. By modernising our 2G equipment at each site we enable 4G. You modernise the equipment, your re-farm the existing 2G spectrum and that’s why we needed the permission from Ofcom, and then finally transmission and the backhaul from the site. Our local one for here is on top of the V&A (Victoria &Albert museum), and needed to be upgraded for 4G speeds.

Is that a software upgrade or hardware?

We have equipment from BT, Virgin and we have our own microwave so in some cases it is hardware and in some cases it is software.

Where did the excess 1800 spectrum come from?

It’s by the nature of bringing Orange and T-Mobile together. So you had two companies whose 2G was full but you bring the two together and you get optimisations. The other thing is growth in 3G. This means there’s less and less use of 2G, so we can migrate and re-farm with a condensed set of spectrum blocks.

What sorts of speeds are you hoping to see at launch and how do you expect that to be a year from now?

So the kind of peak speeds that you can expect to see in the field on some devices we’ve seen as high as 51Mbps. But that’s an absolute peak. What we’re quoting across the cell is that you’ll get at least 10-12Mbps. If you’re an early adopter and you’re one of the first to buy it you’ll see the upper end of those speeds. Today in here, we comfortably hitting 30Mbps.

What about rural areas? Is there any commitment to cover remote areas in terms of the licence to refarm?

As you heard Olaf [Swantee, CEO, EE] talking earlier this year, our focus is on the top 16 cities but in 2013 we will extend to rural areas. We have started the trials this year in Cornwall, Cumbria but by the end of 2013 we expecting to reach 70 per cent of GB population.

Are you still going after more spectrum in the auctions next year?

Yes we will. This announcement doesn’t mean we’re not interested in the spectrum auctions – on the contrary.

Do you expect any legal objections from rival operators?

From our perspective we’ve keen to re-farm spectrum for 4G and we’re not interested in litigation. We think it’s time for 4G and let’s be honest I’m an engineer, and I’m British. It is time for 4G.

LTE Asia conference, coming up NEXT WEEK at the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. If you’re interesting in attending, there’s still time to register here.

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