Following this week’s announcement from EE that it is doubling the amount of spectrum it is using for 4G, Matthew Howett, telecoms regulation analyst at Ovum, wonders if there really will be over 1 million 4G users in the UK by the end of this year.
Not content with merely being the UK’s first 4G network, EE is also defining itself as one of the boldest. 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.
While there may be few applications that need speeds of up to 130Mbps today, the point really is that there almost certainly will be in the future, and that by doubling the amount of spectrum set aside for the 4G deployment today, the network should have the capacity to support an increasing user base in the months to come without impacting on the customer experience.
As Ovum’s recent research shows, 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 refarming existing 1800MHz spectrum, which allows operators like EE to utilize existing sites and masts and make such rollouts possible.
Keen to dampen rumours of weak take-up, EE have also confidently targeted 1million 4G users by the end of the year. With 6 months already under their belt, but 8 months still to go, they are perhaps just under half the way there – a number that is probably more than most had expected at this stage. We have said previously that a first mover has something of an uphill struggle trying to convince consumers to go out there and buy into something they have no experience of using. The best bet for EE, along with its competitors, is to state the advantages of their networks in ways that consumers understand and can relate to – for instance how long it will take to upload a photo, download an HD movie, access storage in the cloud, or just how well it will steam the BBC iPlayer during peak times.
Not so long ago, it looked like Britain would be condemned to the slow lane for years to come. However in just 6 months, over half the UK has now been covered with 4G LTE with a rollout that’s continuing at pace. While EE certainly hasn’t taken its head start for granted, the real test will come once Vodafone, O2 and Three launch 4G LTE networks of their own after winning spectrum in the recent 4G auction – a moment that is now just a matter of weeks away.
By Matthew Howett
Telecoms regulation analyst