EE Opens First UK 4G Network

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

EE 4G network opens up to customers, amidst concerns about pricing and coverage issues

Britain’s first 4G service has gone live, as EE’s first customers get to experience considerably faster mobile Internet. Businesses will be the first to join, and will get benefits, according to EE-sponsored research.

The network has been opened up in 10 cities – London, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and Glasgow. Another six will come online before Christmas. Around seven in ten businesses are planning to use 4G services, and faster speeds are already offering benefits to businesses in the US, according to EE’s figures.

EE was given the go ahead for its 4G service months ahead of other vendors, following Ofcom-held talks with industry rivals like O2, Vodafone and Three.

Those providers will have to acquire spectrum rights. Most of this will be in the upcoming 4G auction at the end of the year, before bringing out  4G services in spring 2013 at the earliest. The original likely date would have been October 2013, until Ofcom took action, holding talks which headed off legal threats from the other operators.

EE will also sell some 4G-capable spectrum to Three as part of the agreement under which Ofcom allowed it to launch services, but this won’t allow the operator to launch services any sooner than its rivals, apparently.

Last month, EE announced a host of phones that can run 4G services on its 1800MHz 4G radio spectrum, including the iPhone 5, HTC One XL, Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE, Nokia Lumia 920, Nokia Lumia 820, HTC One XL and Huawei Ascend P1 LTE, before confirming the 30 October launch date.

LTE4G © Fotolia.com4G goes footloose

The launch hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however. Many have pointed to the potential for big charges due to the lack of an unlimited option for data.

EE’s basic package is £36 per month with a 500Mbyte download limit, which users could consume in around five minutes if 4G download rates match expectations.

EE, which today launched an advertising campaign featuring actor Kevin Bacon, is charging  £36 a month for 500MB of data as its base price. For more data, customers will have to fork out £41 a month for 1GB, £46 for 3GB , £51 for 5GB and £56 for 8GB.

In response to the criticisms over pricing, EE said users will not be downloading any more data than they would over 3G, they will just be getting it faster. “Our view is that there is loads they can do for the entry level package, at £36, but we do expect that plan to be for those wanting to dip their toes into the 4G waters,” a spokesperson told TechWeekEurope.

“EE provides a number of options for customers who have a heavier data requirement. Our top plan with an 8GB data limit provides customers with eight times more data than is used by an average unlimited user today.”

Yet onlookers have complained of disingenuousness – EE knows customers will use more data if access to it is quicker, they claim. EE simply said that customers who want more data can buy more.

Despite the backlash, some analysts have claimed EE has done its rivals a favour by not offering unlimited data.

“EE was always going to have a difficult role to play being the first mover. However, its peers may be grateful for attempting to move away from an all-you-can-eat world for data to an attempt to monetise it,” said Matthew Howett, regulation analyst at Ovum.

“Too quickly data became commoditised for operators once smartphones and other connected devices proliferated.”

EE may also have problems with signal over 4G, as signals travelling over the 1800MHz band suffer greater degradation from physical disturbances than those running at lower frequency. That’s why the 800MHz spectrum will be so vehemently fought over when the auction takes place.

Rivals are now beavering away at getting their infrastructure up to scratch. Vodafone has even started making offers to its customers, ahead of its own 4G launch in spring.

Last week, the telecoms giant said it would allow its pay monthly and small business customers to upgrade early, if they pay 30 percent of the charges remaining on their existing contract. That means they will get 4G ahead of other Vodafone customers as soon as the network goes live.

US business gets a 4G boost

To encourage businesses to take the 4G plunge, EE ran a survey designed to show the benefits it is already providing in countries that already have it, including the US, Sweden, Japan and Germany.

For the survey, Arthur D. Little polled 1200 business decisiion makers and spoke in depth to 14 businesses actually using 4G. The results imply a lot of gains from faster networking – with 86 percent of US respondents saying they get more work done (though it’s not clear how many of the US respondents have 4G).

Update: we have been sent a clip in which EE sales director Marc Alera explains the reasoning behind EE’s marketing. Be aware if you view it on a mobile network, that charges may apply:

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