Posts tagged ‘EE’

EE claims “seismic shift” in UK B2B market as it looks expand revenue streams

seismic shift

EE, the UK network made up of the joint parish of Deutsche Telecom and Orange, has been making a lot of noise recently about its progress in 4G, recently reaching two million subscribers, but at a briefing this week EE revealed some interesting figures about its progress in other areas as well.

It said a total of 17 per cent of that two million were B2B customers, and that it has already moved up one notch from third to second in the corporate accounts in the UK, which, in a market where shifting incumbents can prove to be very challenging and unusual, it claimed represented a “seismic shift”.  It said it now has 4,100 corporate accounts and that the value of its new accounts in terms of ARPU was now up 64% year-on-year, and 34% in terms of volume beating the market trends.


4G shopping not yet open all hours

I received a press release yesterday from EE that observed that 4G has increased the likelihood of UK shoppers conducting their shopping online. To be more precise EE’s 4GEE “Mobile Living Index” – essentially a survey – said that the number of people who said that they planned to shop online using a smartphone or tablet had increased from 15 per cent last year to 39 per cent this year.

That might be true but what caught my eye was the claim that “The daily commute (8.30am and 5.30pm) is the most popular time for shopping on mobile devices”.

Well that might be true for some, but not in my case, or anyone that shares my train commute.

As an EE customer I can attest to excellent network performance near my home and work locations, but on the commute is a rather different story. During this, my phone goes through every flavour of mobile standard, from no service, to 2G, to GPRS, to EDGE, to HSDPA and for a few brief minutes of data bliss, to 4G. The commute is tiring for me – it must be exhausting for my phone.

The reason for this is the terrain. The train line is set away from the good coverage areas and the signal has to contend with high walls round the line, extensive tree coverage and bridges. In addition, occasionally, in between signal failures, the train sometimes moves at speed. None of these things is conducive to delivering a solid data connection. EE use of 1800MHz spectrum, rather than 800MHz, while great for speed in good coverage areas, makes it less likely the signal will penetrate these obstructions.

However, it’s not as if EE can’t compete, as in the spectrum auction it picked up 2 x 5MHz of 800MHz LTE (as well as 2 x 35MHz of 2.6GHz), but it has yet to play its hand on what its plans are for these.

Of course, even if this was deployed it would only help me if I changed my handset (the UK iPhone 5 only supports LTE 1800MHz), which I have no plans to do at the moment.

The frustration is that we’ve been sold the concept of 4G as enabling us to work, play and shop online at high speed while on the go, specifically on trains, but in many cases, it’s still a pipe dream in real world situations.

If seems it’s not going to get much better any time soon. According to this story, “High-speed 4G broadband will be fully in use on sections of Britain’s rail network in 2019 under new plans announced by ministers.”

Inside a train, yesterday

Inside a train, yesterday. The  lack of 4G can clearly be seen.

2019? Really?

On top of that we’re told that only 70 per cent of the public will get 4G on trains by 2019.

Well colour me excited. That’s fully ten years after the first 4G was introduced in Europe, which means that by then, well could expect 5G to be nearing reality.

Furthermore, while Network Rail will be responsible for the track side infrastructure, it will be up to the individual train operators to supply and install the 4G systems on the trains themselves.

Seeing as my train operator, First Capital Connect doesn’t seem too hot on actually running a train service, (as in trains running on time, running with enough carriages, or running at all), I don’t expect it to be able to do sterling work as a 4G network installer.

It’s not all bad of course. On the upside, I’m getting to read more.

Interview: Director of RAN development & programmes, EE, UK: “We believe that ensuring excellent quality in mobility will be the biggest challenge.”

Mansoor Hanif, Director of RAN development & programmes, EE, UK

Mansoor Hanif, Director of RAN development & programmes, EE, UK

Mansoor Hanif, Director of RAN development & programmes, EE, UK is speaking in a panel discussion on the evolution of voice services on Day One of the inaugural LTE Voice Summit, taking place on October 1st-2nd at the Hilton Paddington, London. Ahead of the conference we find out more about the recent advances EE has made to its network and find out more about the challenges that implementing VoLTE will bring.

EE has recently moved to offer ‘double speed’. Can you explain technically exactly what you did and what the challenges were?

From launch until June of this year our 4G network was running on 2x10MHz of 1800MHz spectrum. Technically this allows a maximum speed of around 70Mbps per second. Since June we’ve doubled the spectrum used for 4G to 2x20MHz, increasing the maximum theoretical download speed to 150Mbps in 20 of the largest cities across the country. The maximum upload speed was also increased to around 45Mbps. In real-world usage, this translates to average user download speeds of 24-30Mbps, and upload speeds often in excess of 20Mbps.


UK finally gets some 4G competition


An O2 4G cupcake in London today

It’s a big day for LTE in the UK as Vodafone and O2 both launch their LTE networks, giving EE some competition in the 4G space some 10 months after it first launched. However, EE’s rivals are hampered by the limited nature of their launches – London, Leeds and Bradford for O2, and just London for Vodafone. This will hit 13 and 12 cities respectively by the end of the year, but for most of the country outside London/Leeds it’s all rather less exciting.

Still if you are in coverage and you’re wondering if the networks are actually running and how they compare you’re in luck. I popped down to Oxford Street this lunchtime and into the relevant stores for some EE vs Vodafone vs O2 LTE speed test action.

While the numbers are good, my experiences in store were not exactly stellar however. Both O2 and Vodafone had specialist 4G staff on hand, but only the latter actually got it right.


EE looks to streak ahead as UK LTE rivals wait in the wings

EEEE, the only national UK operator currently offering LTE has made couple of announcements today, several of which are innovations for the UK market.

Firstly it has made good on its promise from back in April that it would ‘double’ average UK speeds, with an initial launch of 12 cities. This is no LTE Advanced chicanery – it has simply double the bandwidth it uses from 2 x 10MHz to 2 x 20MHz. Clearly EE has got plenty of spectrum, and it’s not afraid to flaunt it.

It’s also happy to shout it now being able to offer speeds up to 150Mbps, but that’s theoretical, and effectively nonsense. There is a genuine real-world speed boost on offer though, and in my tests on an iPhone 5, I now am consistently getting 30Mbps – pretty much double what I was seeing before.

This is of course a strategic move to keep it ahead of its rivals, who will soon be launching their own LTE services and are unlikely to have the bandwidth to match EE’s speeds.

What’s innovative though is the pricing. The double speed is free to all existing subscribers, but it says that from September it will be charging more for the faster service. If it goes through with this, it will be the first time that a mobile operator has offered speed-based tiered pricing in the UK. This is going to be in stark contrast to Hutchison’s 3 UK network, which has already said it will not be charging more for its LTE service, and has been trying to counter EE speed marketing with its own ‘Ultrafast’ labelling, thanks to its use of DC-HSPA delivering 20Mbps.

No surprise then that it also confirmed that it is trialling carrier aggregation and might use this from the end of 2013, which will help it boosts speeds further.

The other area of innovation from EE is the introduction of Shared plans, again a UK first. From 17 July, you’ll be able to add up to five devices to one bill, for an extra £12 per phone or £5 for a tablet. That should make it more attractive to get more than one LTE device for a household.

Thirdly it’s introducing LTE as a Pay-as-you-Go option – asking £15 for 2GB a month with every extra 500MB costing £3. O2 MVNO Giffgaff offers unlimited 3G data for £12 a month, so the price premium for speed is clear here.

The next new trick is dubbed ‘Cash on tap’ – with a mobile contactless payment scheme using the NFC built into its compatible handsets using Mastercard. This means of course that the iPhone 5 is off the menu, and mainstream outlets such as McDonalds and Boots are on board. Of course contactless is something of a misnomer as you actually have to tap to make it work, but we’ll let that go.

Finally, there’s a new router on offer for its fixed-line fibre (FTTC) customers, the main draw of which is support for 802.11c, the new fast Wi-Fi standard.

It’s a healthy batch of announcements and it’s good to see EE not resting on its laurels as it strives to reach one million customers by the end of the year, but of all its moves, I’ll be most curious to see if the UK market has the stomach for tiered speed pricing.

Double trouble – How EE is able to double its speeds and why it isn’t entirely good news

olafThis morning EE, the only national LTE operator in the UK announced that come the summer, it would be doubling speeds of its 1800MHz LTE network for its subscribers.  The increase offers a maximum headline speed of 130Mbps, which in the real world would translate to average speeds of 20Mps. The increase will initially be available in ten cities – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield – and would be done by the end of June.

How is this possible? At the launch CEO Olaf Swantee explained that it was doubling the bandwidth it would be using from 2x 10MHz to 2x 20MHz.

EE has loads of spectrum to play with. In the recent auction, in addition to its considerable 45Mhz at 1800 (63% of all UK 1800 holdings)  it has also acquired 5MHz of 800 spectrum  and 35MHz at 2.6GHz. It therefore owns 36% of all UK spectrum.

Not though that the increase will only happen on the 1800MHz layer. It certainly won’t offer it on 800MHz as it won’t offer that same level of speed as EE simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to support it.

As its UK competitors start to ready themselves to launch LTE, for EE the move is timely, as it gives them another strong point of differentiation. In fact they could be crying into their base stations. Vodafone owns the next largest chunk of spectrum with 20MHz of 2.6GHz while H3G tops out at 15MHz of 1800.

Did EE hold back the launch then just got marketing reasons? Not so, says Monsoor Hanif, director of network integration and LTE at EE who I spoke to after the launch I spoke to and he assured me that the speed increase was always in its schedule and that it did not depend of the success at auction.

However, on a technical level it was not ready to launch at 2x 20MHz he said. Its 1800 spectrum has of course been used for voice and according to Hanif the delay was to ensure it managed that transition to 4G smoothly without affecting the quality of its voice calls. “To take away 10MHz from your 2G spectrum, that’s a massive challenge and we did that very fast. And we didn’t impact the 2G quality – we actually improved it. Could we have done it at day one? Only if we were reckless.”

The major fly in the EE ointment though is that if people were complaining about the paucity of its data bundles at launch, it’s going to be even worse come the summer when those in the ten launch cities will be able to chow their way through their allowances at even more astonishing speeds.

I asked this directly to Olaf Swantee but his answer essentially side-stepped the question. He said that its T-Mobile customers on its unlimited Full Monty tariff  average out at 1.4GB for heavy users. But in the previous sentence he also said that 4G users user more than 3G users.

So if you’re increasing your speeds, why not increase the bundles?

People like the simplicity Swantee said. “They like the fact that it’s a simple portfolio. You cannot get data bill shock as you can’t run out of our bundle.” Well that’s true, but it doesn’t really address the issue.

In the notes supplied with the event EE says the increased speeds will enable it to be ready to stream Ultra HD 4K movies – the next generation beyond Full HD 1080p. However, how it can square this with its modest data bundles is beyond me – as while the network may certainly be fast enough to handle it – most people’s wallets certainly won’t.

Swantee also said that the overall bundle appeals to many – the Film Store, the 2-for-1 cinema deals and the tethering. It’s true, all of those things are great value-adds, but there’s no getting away from the fact that price wise EE LTE remains a premium proposition.

LTE and wifi: two halves of the same coin

As I’ve mentioned in a recent post I’ve recently switched to EE, mainly to get LTE, and on the whole it’s excellent. However, the downside is that I had to move away from the unlimited data I was used to when I was on GiffGaff (an MVNO of O2 – Telefonica UK).

I now have a data cap of 3GB of data a month, which from what I can gather in on the large side compared to the average mobile user. I came close to using all of this one month but usually keep well under – and wifi is key to this.

Aside from wifi access at work, I’ve been taking more time to sign up to wifi networks when they present themselves and recently that seems to have been happening more often.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m now being forced to pay more attention to wifi hotspots because of my data cap, or if BT has recently got its finger out, but I’ve found BT wifi hotspots seemingly pop up quite a lot. As EE’s data packages offer from access to BT wifi hotspots this is a Good Thing.


Barclays Bank recently announced a deal with BT to offer free wifi and other places dotted around such as restaurants offer it. That said, somewhat irritatingly there’s no hotspot or indeed EE coverage at the gym I recently joined, and their combined absence puts a rather large dent in my ability to stream music to my phone. Having to cache tracks ahead of time seems a rather dated approach to take.

BT has recently rebranded its BT Openzone hotspots as BT wifi, which makes things a little confusing but it does makes things easier to understand, so it’s a sensible move from a consumer perspective.

The point though is that having that any operator offering a data cap needs to have a solid wifi proposition to go along with it, in order to ensure its users can get a good data experience without worrying about their caps and to act as a backhaul channel to offload data from the core network. It makes sense for the user, and it makes sense for the operator.

The issue is that sometimes the EE app picks up the hotspot and enables access seamlessly – and sometimes it doesn’t, making the process far more clunky – firing up the browser, enter a phone number and passcode in to a launch page and then correcting mistakes and then waiting for it to connect blah, blah, blah. Too slow. Hotspot 2.0 can’t come soon enough.

The LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, is taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a flyer for the event.

EE bah gum: it’s fast! – EE LTE on test


As my day job involves writing about LTE on a pretty regular basis (as in every day) I always found it quite ironic that up until recently I’d never experienced an LTE network ‘in anger’. Come October last year and UK operator EE changed all of that. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally succumbed to the temptation and signed up to the service. This means I’ve done the full tour of UK operators. I started with T-Mobile in 1998 when it was still One-to-One, later moved to Vodafone (just for 3G – yes really), before moving to O2 (cheap). It means Orange is the only brand I’ve not been billed by, but I am at least now using its network.

Today the UK operator EE released its first figures since the operator launched its LTE network, and analysts have been fairly downcast on the figures, which show a decline in revenue of 2.6 per cent to £5.96bn. There have been an increase in post-paid subscribers to the service, the EE network includes the Orange and T-Mobile brands, which are 3G only. As EE has not released figures for the number of its new 4G EE customers there’s no way of knowing to what extent LTE has helped. The assumption from analysts though is that if EE has something to crow about, it would be doing so.

So what’s keeping the punters away? The only conclusion can be price. As you might have heard, there’s a double-dip recession on, which is not the ideal environment to get consumers to pay more for faster speeds, especially when they are as heavily capped as EE. Remember the entry-level cap only gives you 500MBs to play with and though the price has dropped to £31, it’s still pricey. To get a decent 3GB on a two-year contract with an iPhone 5 will cost you £46 a month with £99 for the phone.

But is it worth it?

The one thing I can confirm is that it’s fast. In areas of good coverage, which fortunately for me includes both work and home, LTE on an iPhone 5 delivers speeds that consistently put my Virgin broadband 60Mb connection to shame. Speeds of 30Mbps on the downlink and in excess of 20Mb on the uplink are a breathe of fresh air, especially coming from O2’s 3G network which at least for me, was pretty dire, rarely delivering more than 1.5Mbps.

What surprised me was how much difference it made even for the simple things, such as sending iMessages. The progress bar on messages just zips across, making for more natural conversations. Adding a picture to an iMessage used to mean a long wait while the message was painfully uploaded. Now, they go so quickly that the first time I had to check it had actually been sent and hadn’t just failed. All that upload speed is great for sending or posting pictures and videos, which is what more and more of us are doing from our smartphones.

A lovely was to demonstrate LTE is YouTube. It just loads up and starts to play immediately, with no buffering. Suddenly the speed of your device and not the network is the limit. This was brought home to me just today. I was on the train, and had need to watch a YouTube video. Immediately I did so and for once I was not thinking about latency or cell towers, – just the video. This all changed as the video suddenly stopped. I checked and noted that I was at a stop that I knew was an LTE blackspot (West Hampstead Station). 3G was displayed on the phone, but the speed wasn’t there. Result: experience spoilt.

This does seem to be a problem for EE. Even in the West-End of London I’ll see LTE come and go, and while DC-HSPA 3G is fast, I’ve also seen standard 3G, EDGE and GPRS, which means that your handset might well have to cope with switching between five different network standards during the day. No wonder these smartphones struggle for battery life.

If you have to fall back to DC-HSPA though performance is good. In a recent interview with EE’s Principal network architect, Andy Sutton, I was told that as part of its upgrade programme EE also currently has 40 per cent coverage of DC-HSPA on its network, and I can attest to this being pretty solid. However, ubiquitous coverage of either LTE of DC HPSA is still a long way away and clearly improvements can be made in the hand-off between network technologies.

LTE is not just great for video though. Being something of an audio aficionado I enjoy listening to high quality audio when I can. LTE enables me to stream by 24-bit FLAC files to my handset from NAS box at home, with no issues at all, something that was simply impossible on 3G.

As a downside, listening to high quality files on an LTE connection is also a great way for draining your battery, so necessitated purchasing a charging cable for work and plugging in on a regular basis.

I’ve also used LTE as a backup connection at home, when my Virgin connection has ground to a halt, as it sometimes does. This is thanks to the ability to very easily tether via the iPhone 5 hot-spot feature. This was banned by GiffGaff, the O2 MVNO I used to be on, a point of frustration when there was unlimited data to play with.

In my first month I’ve come just under the 3GB limit, which is clearly the sweet spot for me – enough to use the LTE as I want, without having to worry I’ll go over the cap.

What’s also gratifying is the speed at which EE is rolling out the network. At launch it was just 11 cities, and just four months later it stands at 27 cities – with 15 more by the end of next month.

And while I didn’t come to EE because of the value added services I have made use of the bundled wifi, which gives access to BT Wifi hotspots, the ‘EE Wednesday’s Cinema 2-4-1 offer, and the EE Film store, with a free film a week available to download that doesn’t eat into your data package to download.

To be critical, the EE app has just got very confused about my data usage, telling me I’ve used only 800Mb of my 3GB, when yesterday I had almost used it all up. The web site also had no record of my data usage. I also wouldn’t recommend roaming without a pre-pay bundle – the prices are simply eye-watering. Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes has been working on forcing operators to lower these charges, and for me that can’t come soon enough.

The Clone Phone Lite app also seems pointless. It’s redundant for an iPhone thanks for iCloud, it only comes with a 500MB cap and when I tried to test the app it didn’t recognise my phone anyway.

Overall though, the combination of very fast network speeds and some actually useful value added services, I’d describe the whole EE experience as the most premium feeling package I’ve ever used. Which considering the premium prices is as it should be.

It remains to be seen then how it pans out. I’m relieved that being lucky enough to have an unlocked iPhone 5 without a contract I was able to go for a SIM-only package. This means that I’m only tied in for 12 months – not 24 and come next year they’ll be a pick of other operators offering LTE – (though of course as the iPhone 5 is LTE1800 only I’ll need a new handset to take advantage of them). If I stay, I expect that EE’s packages will be more enticing to the mass market.

So EE: it is expensive, and it can be patchy but as a teacher once described my contribution in class – “when it’s there – it’s really there.”

A price war is coming

Price-WarIf there was any doubt that things are going to get tasty LTE-wise in the UK, it was earlier this week, when 3, the UK arm of telco brand Hutchison, announced that when it launches its own LTE network later in the year it will not be charging a premium. The implication was the users will pay exactly the same as they do now, and as 3 currently leads the market for low-cost unlimited 3G data, that’s a pretty enticing prospect.

It’s also one that shoots a considerable large volley across the bows of the good ship EE, which got itself in the LTE race early by launching a service in November. It was able to do so after pulling off the deft trick of getting the regulator, Ofcom, to let it re-farm its 2G 1800MHz spectrum for LTE.  Having bigged up the benefits of 4G at its launch it then proceeded to make the most of this by launching LTE as a premium service – with high prices for lengthy 24-month contracts with small data allowances, the latter of which the network took a lot of flak for in the press.

With the auction process for the digital dividend 800MHz frequency and 2.6GHz now underway, ironically pushed earlier by Ofcom to reduce EE’s 4G lead-time in the market, EE reacted by announcing lower prices for its entry-level tariff. Instead of £36 a month for 500MB of data it would now only charge £31 a month, which over a 24-month period that’s a significant saving of £90. The price of a handset such as the Nokia Lumia 820, would also come down to £29.99. However, the measly 500MB bundle would remain.

At the other end of the market it would cater for high-end users with a new 20GB a month tariff with a phone and unlimited calls for £61 or the same thing but SIM-only for £41.

It’s not quite the slashing of prices that some had reported though – just one real saving on the entry-level package.

3 is currently offering an iPhone 5 with unlimited 3G data and 2000 minutes for £36 a month, which is more or less the same, aside from 500MB of LTE data vs unlimited 3G. When both of these become LTE, EE will have a problem.

Of course EE does have a couple of decent added value services to offer, such as tethering, inclusive BT wifi, Underground wifi, 2-4-1 cinema tickets (better known as Orange Wednesdays) and  the EE Film Store – but it’s unlikely this will be enough to sway many people away from an unlimited package.

Of course EE does have one key advantage – it has an LTE network that is up and running with coverage is increasing all the time with new markets being announced on a regular basis. What EE needs to continue to do is keep up the marketing pressure on signing people up before the other come online with live networks – which will be around six months from now.

It might get a bit longer to play with as the iPhone crowd won’t switch to LTE unless they can use their favourite fruity phones. The current European model of the iPhone 5 only supports 1800MHz, so all the other operators will be looking at Apple to make them happy and release an 800/2600MHz LTE supporting iPhone next time round – which is unlikely to be until September/October 2013 – a year or so following the iPhone 5 launch.

When this happens one has to imaging that EE’s pricing will look somewhat different to what it looks like at the start of 2013.

Pricing strategies are certainly going to be one of the hot topics addressed at the LTE World Summit 2013, taking place in Amsterdam in June, so be sure to get your plans together now to attend.

EE puts LTE in January sales

This is a guest post by Mike Hibberd, editorial director at, Mobile Communications International magazine and Banking Technology. Follow him @telecomshibberd


Last year, with a deft move that left its competitors fuming, Everything Everywhere became the first UK operator to offer LTE services. This week, as Ofcom’s LTE spectrum auction got underway, Everything Everywhere has become—rather less auspiciously—the first UK operator to slash its LTE retail charges.

Most notable was the special promotion that will give customers 500MB of LTE data, and the standard unlimited domestic calls and texts for £31/month over 24 months with a handset for less than £30. That’s cheap.

At the high end, consumers that EE profiles as “super users” can spend £46/month for 20GB of data with a SIM-only plan if they sign up before the end of next month.

EE says that these are time-limited special offers but price-cutting tends to be a one-way journey. Even if these tariffs do revert to more significant premiums, other offers will take their place. Especially when Vodafone, O2 and 3UK deploy their own offerings.

These players, along with EE, are currently stacking their chips on the green baize of Ofcom’s gambling table. You wonder what they make of EE’s announcement as they weigh their wallets. It’s not the most positive of messages about the prospects for LTE operators in the UK—EE only launched in November and the prices are already coming down.

Unfortunately, and unlike the 3G auction, this game is being played behind closed doors so we won’t know if EE’s retail re-jigs will affect any other player’s valuation on the spectrum until the process has concluded.

We can draw a few conclusions from EE’s pricing tactics, though. First, the firm knows that its LTE lead is running out fast and it wants to wring every advantage from it that it can. Second, money is tight and the market is price sensitive at the moment. Third, and most worrying for EE and its competitors, faster network speeds just aren’t enough of a draw for consumers in the immediate term.

Consider that EE is cutting its prices in the face of no comparable network offering from any of its competitors. We’re used to hearing about price cuts because of intense competition; price cuts in a monopoly are somewhat less common.

The reality, of course, is that EE’s LTE network has plenty of competition, from the UK market’s 3G HSPA networks (EE’s own included).

Why should the end user pay even EE’s reduced rate of £31/month for 500MB of LTE data and a limited range of handsets when they can pay £26/month for 1GB of data at HSPA+ rates and get the Nexus 4 for free? This makes more sense financially to the consumer because consumers value the device more than they value the network.

Now this is bitterly unfair, because the network is the most complicated part of the mobile service and by far the most expensive to deploy and maintain. But it is a fact—and one that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Which is why operators need to be given as much flexibility as possible in their deployment of LTE networks. Ofcom is publicly committed to maintaining the number of separately owned and operated LTE networks in the UK market; it is one of the goals of this auction. And yet as our Intelligence Industry Survey 2013 reveals, 65 per cent of respondents believe that network sharing is essential to the profitability of LTE. Not a useful tool to improve cost management, but essential to profitability.

EE will be speaking at the LTE World Summit, the premier 4G event for the telecoms industry, taking place on the 24th-26th June 2013, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to download a flyer for the event.

UK LTE – The Best is Yet to Come

This post is by Bengt Nordstrom, co-founder and CEO of strategic wireless business consultancy, Northstream,

The intense UK media coverage around Everything Everywhere’s (EE) LTE service launch could have fooled people into thinking it was the first launch of its kind. There are, in fact, a total of 113 operators with live networks across 51 countries, according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association. EE is trailblazing a new path for the UK mobile industry, but this route is not without its controversies and challenges. Bengt Nordstrom, co-founder and CEO of strategic wireless business consultancy Northstream, discusses the UK’s first LTE network launch and whether EE’s gamble to go early will pay off.

4G or not 4G….

The UK regulator Ofcom, much to the consternation of rival operators, allowed EE to re-farm its 1800MHz spectrum to launch LTE services in October. However, prior to this, the regulator had earned widespread condemnation for displaying a lack of leadership in allowing the UK operator community to constantly appeal its decisions. This led to massive delays in the UK spectrum auctions taking place; which in turn has prevented commercial LTE service availability and left the UK trailing its European neighbours.

However, the UK is now catching up, with its first live LTE network. More are now set to follow, with the news that Ofcom will auction LTE spectrum licences, at a reserve of £1.3 billion. It is likely that the auctions will raise three of four times this amount of money. A staggering amount given the state of the global economy; and considering how energised the UK Government appear to be regarding LTE deployment. It seems an enigma why regulators make sense of taxing operators who are prepared to build out critical mobile infrastructure.

Despite the cost, these auctions will have the positive outcome that Vodafone, O2 and 3UK will now get their chance to launch LTE. At the moment though a marketing war has erupted – in which EE’s rivals scramble to differentiate themselves and retain their subscribers. For example, Vodafone has launched a £4.5m national newspaper campaign with the tagline “not all 4G networks are the same”; claiming that Vodafone’s signal will travel “further into your home” and is the only mobile network to “own a nationwide fibre backbone”.

A war of words is one thing, but it will be difficult for competitors to respond to EE’s latest move. Although UK 4G coverage is currently limited there is a genuine buzz among consumers about LTE, following the huge amount of publicity it has received. LTE is the service subscribers are keen on; and EE is offering that now. The reality is that operators will not have a fitting response to EE’s LTE offering, until they deploy LTE themselves next year.

The Price is Right?

EE’s 24 month LTE tariffs, ranging from £36 for 500MB up to £56 for 8GB, have drawn criticism on price and how much data they provide. Downloading a one hour programme on BBC’s iPlayer consumes roughly half the 500MB data allowance the lowest priced EE plan offers. It is commonplace for the first mover in the market to have the advantage. EE has done this by setting the bar high on its LTE tariff plans. However, this premium period should only last a short time. There will be a decline in LTE price plans as other operators enter the market. EE may potentially make an early move to lower prices as they seek to control the market as Vodafone, O2 and 3UK plan their entry.

Higher prices for LTE won’t trouble the initial audience; predominantly early adopters and corporate subscribers. There is also a huge market for LTE USB dongles. EE’s dongle tariffs start at £15.99 for 2GB, up to £25.99 for 5GB, and the device is available from free up to £49.99. This is an attractive alternative to ADSL from fixed line providers. Especially for residents of semi-rural areas who suffer slow speeds as they are far away from the switch. Young professionals living in shared accommodation will also find LTE dongles an easy, convenient and cost effective way to get online. This is a market in which EE can really outperform and provide challenging competition to fixed line players. Traditional telcos would have to deploy an increased amount of fibre to compete with LTE coverage; making it very costly for them to stay in touching distance of EE.

The Challenge Ahead

But deploying LTE does pose some technical challenges; and one of the biggest is backhaul. Fibre to the base stations is required to ensure they leverage LTE’s throughput capabilities. EE will need a lot of lead time to deploy fibre; and it is not an easily available off-the-shelf product. WiFi, a rapidly maturing and familiar technology, is not perfect, but could plug coverage gaps and be a solid foil for EE and its macro LTE network.

The other challenge is one that is unique to LTE over 1800MHz – limited indoor coverage. An 1800MHz base station grid just doesn’t penetrate buildings as well. It will be important for EE to deal with this issue as the majority of smartphone usage occurs indoors. Deploying base stations in buildings is not practical or affordable. Small cells remain a remote concept and a great deal more unrealistic than many perceive. Their unit cost, and the amount required, makes them increasingly unviable solution for operators. In order to provide a good user experience EE needs the combination of 1800MHz and 800MHz; with LTE deployed over 800MHz for better indoor coverage.

It will take time for EE’s LTE network to mature, but there was no reason it took such a long time to launch LTE in the UK. However, the country has not suffered due to the delay. Now 4G is live, the UK has a good chance of reaching the level the rest of Europe is at by 2014. But for a market with such a long tradition of being influential in mobile, the UK’s LTE delay has certainly dented its prestige.

Bengt Nordström biography

Bengt co-founded Northstream in 1998 and has been its CEO ever since. Prior to founding Northsream, Bengt held the position of CTO and Executive Director of Smartone in Hong Kong. Other management positions include Ericsson, Comviq and Netcom consultants. Bengt has also held been on the Executive Committee of the GSM Association as well as chairing its Asia Pacific Interest Group.

Pricing strategies will be a major focus of the LTE World Summit, taking place on the 24th – 26th June 2013 at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands. Click here to pre-register for the event

EE LTE: First impressions – fast but pricey

As you may have seen the UK finally joined the 4G club today as EE as put its devices on sale through its new rebranded stores. Gone are Orange and T-Mobile shops, and in their stead are EE stores – with the Orange and T-Mobile logos neatly placed in the corner so people have some idea what this newcomer to the high street is all about.

I walked in to the store on Tottenham Court Road in the heart of London and to take a look at the store and see what sort of speeds the network was offering on Day One. I initially picked up a Samsung Galaxy S3 (which is huge by the way) and looked to run a speed test. However, I noticed that the phone was connected via Wi-Fi, which on a display stand advertising EE 4G doesn’t seem like the smartest move. I tried to manually go into the settings and turn it off, but was thwarted by a password screen. Not a great start.

I then picked up another Android phone of unknown (or at least unremembered) parentage, but was immediately put off by the cheap, plasticky feel and the confusing mess of icons that is Android. Where does one start with that OS? It’s hard to know. I didn’t have time to mess around so with relief I found on display an iPhone 5 – connected to EE LTE, with Wi-Fi. The app was preinstalled, so I just had to fire it up – simples.

On first attempt I got 13.90Mbps down and 9.80Mbps. The latter is impressive – faster than my home connection, but the former – a bit meh. The second go was better – 26.68Mbps down and 13.27Mbps up. Not bad, not bad at all. Of course, this is day one – the equivalent of driving sports car at speed on an empty motorway – but it’s promising.

If we’re being harsh, and we are, one thing to note to note is the ping of 50ms – good, but not outstanding. That said, we’ve been told that LTE would be responsive, and it was. Web pages loaded quickly, video streamed instantly and I could scrub through with no lag.

While I was using the phone an assistant came up to me and asked if he could help. I asked if he could make EE tariffs cheaper. He looked bemused.

Much has been made of the fact that the EE prices seem very expensive to UK consumers. There’s the £36 starting point for a 500MB of data, and £56 a month top whack for £56 8GB on a lengthy two-year contract . If you’ve bought a phone outright and you want SIM only, you need to pay £31 a month for 3GB and £36 for 5GB. I’m paying £10 a month for unlimited data, so in no way do the EE tariffs seem attractive to me.

The service I’m with, an MVNO on O2 called Giffgaff offers low tariffs but has no shiny stores to pay for, and no phone-based customer care either – just a website and a forum full of knowledgeable, active users who can help you in seconds if you need assistance. The types you might say, that would be very likely to want to be early adopters of a fast network to really make the most of data, and would probably pay a bit more to get it. A bit more – maybe 100% more – but not 260% more.

One has to wonder who EE is aiming for, with its big stores, big phones, and its big prices. Not me. I sent the helper on his way, and I went on mine.

EE names its price

After months, nay years, of waiting, what is arguably the most important date for UK LTE is here. EE, the network that will launch the UK’s first national LTE service a week today, has announced its prices, giving UK consumer a first look at what they will have to pay to use the service. And as they say, the proof is in the pricing.

The prices cover subsidised smartphone plans, SIM-only plans, mobile broadband USB,  mobile wifi devices, and fixed-line broadband using both standard ADSL and fibre-to-the-cabinet, but what will interest the man/woman on the street though are the phone plans – and the starting tariff is £36 a month for a phone with unlimited calls, unlimited texts—and 500MB of data. A 1GB allowance is £41, 5GB takes it up to £36. The top-tier is an 8GB allowance at £56.

Move to SIM-only and 500MB will cost you ‘only’ £21. Its £25 for 1GB, £31 for 3GB and £36 for 5GB. There’s no 8GB SIM-only option for some reason.

This could be a problem.

Assuming a download speed of 15Mbps (we actually saw 27Mbps in the speed test at launch), and that entry-level 500MB of data could be downloaded in less than five minutes. Which, assuming 43,800 minutes in a month, would leave you with 43,795 minutes remaining with which you can’t not use the internet on your 4G phone.  You could pace yourself of course – but that would equate to around 10 seconds of full-tilt LTE a day. Whoopee.

Of course, that’s an exaggeration of real world use – you don’t tend to use that much data in one go on your phone, but even snacking on data, 500MB is a little on the lean side, to say the least.

What these expensively priced data buckets don’t seem to take into account is the way that LTE should change the way people uses their phones. Fast access will make using cloud and streaming services second nature – but if they do, they will run into their data allowances almost immediately.

Olaf Swantee, the chief executive of EE told Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology Correspondent for the BBC that, “”We really think we’ve priced it at the sweet spot,” and, “it’s all based on months of consumer research.”

From the look of my Twitter feed the UK public would beg to differ.

This from UK tech site TechRadar – “Lots of anger about EE’s 4G pricing – if it was £36/month for 1GB, would that sway you? What would you be willing to pay?”

This from a punter – “If I switch to a 4G contract (still paying £36/month) my data allowance goes from Unlimited to 500MB! Kept that one quiet! @EE.” and “Over promising and over pricing! When will@ThreeUK have 4G.”

The Editor of PC Pro said, “EE has just blown all first-mover advantage with those ridiculous 4G tariffs. Shareholders must hold CEO accountable.”

And this from yours truly – “Initial reaction to @EE prices – they’re horrible. 5GB SIM only for £36? That’s a 260% hike on what I currently pay for data. I’m out. #4G.”

On the plus side there are some real positives. EE has said that tethering is allowed, as is VoIP and for £5 a month extra, the tariffs can be used when roaming across Europe and is several other selected countries, among which are Australia, China, India, Israel, Russia and the USA. In addition, free access to BT wifi is included, and as a value-add, EE is offering EE Film, which enables customers to stream one film of choice to any device a month, without impacting their data allowance.

The fact that despite promises that EE would only place a modest premium on LTE, these are in fact premium prices for a premium service. The mass market will have to wait for the other networks to join the LTE party (and if you’re an die-hard iPhone fan that will mean an iPhone 6 will be required  – the iPhone 5 will not support 800/2.6GHz LTE).

From a pure industry perspective, EE’s rivals in the market should be pleased with EE’s pricing strategy. Theyr’e not too low that all the value has been taken out of the market at the start, and there’s scope for them  to be more competitive when their services come online.

When that happens EE will be likely to be forced to lower prices, but for now, the price levels indicate that it is trying to take as much advantage of its first mover position as possible to generate revenue. That‘s good news for the industry – but less so for the consumer.

4G in the UK: Timelines settled, now fight for the customers

This is a guest post by Francesco Radicati, an analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, provider of strategic insight, global market data and primary research.

The UK’s 4G saga may have reached its climax in August with Everything Everywhere receiving permission to launch its own LTE network early, but the story isn’t over yet. UK regulator Ofcom announced yesterday that it would move forward the auction for the Digital Dividend creating by switching off analogue TV, and that clearance of TV transmitters will be brought forward by around five months.

This is a clear concession to O2 and Vodafone, who were the most vocal in criticizing the decision to let EE launch 4G on its 1800MHz spectrum. Given the uncertainty over dates and the long lead times, both operators faced potential waits of around a year to launch their own 4G networks. Add to that the fact that Apple’s new iPhone 5, which hit the market just a few weeks after Ofcom’s announcement, only supports LTE over the 1800MHz frequency in the UK; this might not be an operator’s worst nightmare, but it must certainly be high on the list.

As I said back in August, the danger remained of O2 and Vodafone mounting a legal challenge to stop EE being able to launch its 4G network. But it looks like we’ve avoided that particular nuclear option, which would have caused even more delays; more to the point, it looks like everybody’s (just about) gotten what they wanted.

Click here to to read the rest of the post:

Director of network services and devices, EE: “We think it’s time for 4G. It is time for 4G”

EE logo

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.

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UK finally joins the LTE fast track

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.

EE logo

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.

Olaf Swantee

Olaf Swantee, CEO of EE announcing the new brand and UK LTE network

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).

Boris Johnson EE

Boris Johnson’s speech at the EE launch, London 11 September 2012 (Audio only)

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.

EE LTE speeds – on test!

Here are two videos taking at the Science Museum in London following the launch event for EE’s LTE network, which will cover 16 cities across the UK by the end of the year.

Excuse the dodgy camera work, but here we see a quick speed test of EE UK’s LTE network run on a HTC One XL. The 51ms Ping is actually higher than I would have hoped, but 27.8Mbps downlaod and over 19.4Mbps upload is not to be sniffed at for my first experience of UK LTE. Considering I only get 5Mbps upload on my home broadband it’s hard not be be impressed.

Here we see a simple test -Angry Birds being downloaded and installed on a Samsung Galaxy SIII. As is pretty obvious from the video, the one on the left is a 3G handset and the one of the right is LTE. The LTE one has the game downloading, installed and the first level completed, before the 3G is even half way through. (Well two out of three ain’t bad).

Why LTE networks are like buses

There has been some major developments in the UK LTE market today as the regulator Ofcom announced that it will permit Everything Everywhere (the Orange/T-Mobile merger) to re-farm its 1800MHz spectrum for use with LTE. Ofcom has now issued “varied licences to EE which authorise LTE services from 11 September 2012”, and it has told that it had plans to launch in “certain key locations in the UK by the end of this year”.

The results – howls of protest from the EE’s UK rivals. Their issue is that as they don’t hold licenses for 1800MHz they will have to wait for next year’s auction, currently set to start at the start of 2013, for the chance to bid for 800MHz and 2600MHz spectrum. This could put them almost a year behind in the LTE marketing stakes.

Ofcom said its decision was because, “delaying doing so would therefore be to the detriment of consumers.”

Vodafone though has said quite the opposite claiming that, “the regulator has shown a careless disregard for the best interests of consumers, businesses and the wider economy through its refusal to properly regard the competitive distortion created by allowing one operator to run services before the ground has been laid for a fully competitive 4G market.”

Analysing this, Vodafone is trying to suggest that consumers will be better served by having them wait for everyone to launch at once – which doesn’t really hold up. Certainly EE will have a competitive advantage by offering LTE first as there’s serious pent up demand for LTE. Yes, in the long term, consumers will be able to benefit even more from competition in the market once the rest of the players get hold of spectrum via the auction but undoubtedly they will benefit by having access to it as soon as possible

Of course, it won’t matter who has an LTE network if the devices aren’t there. As Informa’s Principal Analyst Thomas Wehmeier says, “Another critical task that lies ahead for EE will be to convince the world’s leading device manufacturers to build smartphones for their network. You can build the network, but without the right devices the customers cannot and will not come”

On the mobile broadband side, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem as the device eco-system is growing, ZTE is producing 1800MHz dongles for CSL in Hong Kong for example. But on the devices side it’s a bit more limited. In Australia, Telstra is offering the HTC One XL, Velocity, the windows-based Titan 4G, and the Samsung Galaxy SII. However, the flagship Galaxy SIII is not LTE 1800 capable. The other big one of course is the iPhone 5. No one knows what that will support LTE at all, and if it does, at what frequencies, but if 1800 is in there, it will be a massive win for EE. (If not Apple and EE will have to be careful, to avoid the hoopla around the iPad’s 4G incompatibility with European and Australian LTE).

What’s really interesting is this from Informa’s Wehmeier. “The ruling issued today applies to the full chunk of 1800MHz spectrum that Everything Everywhere owns in the UK, including the 2x15MHz that it is being forced to divest as a result of conditions imposed on the Orange-T-Mobile merger by the European Commission. The clarity on the potential use of that spectrum will provide fresh impetus to the sale negotiations with Hutchison 3G (3) the clear favourite to land the spectrum. The sale must be finalised by 30 September 2012 meaning the UK could conceivably see two 4G networks up and running by Christmas.”

So after years being behind the 4G curve we may get two networks at once. It’s a funny old world.

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