EE Announces Rural 4G Push, More Double Speed Cities And In-Car Wi-Fi

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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EE talks about network expansion, new mobile Wi-Fi devices and the UK’s “most affordable tablet” as it seeks to make 4G more accessible

EE has announced plans to make 4G more accessible with the expansion of coverage to rural areas and the arrival of double-speed LTE in more cities by the end of the year, alongside the launch of a number of new products, which include an in-car 4G Wi-Fi device and the EE Eagle tablet.

Speaking at an event in London, CEO Olaf Swantee revealed that the operator now has 3.6 million LTE subscribers and that sales of 4G plans were exceeding those of 3G for the first time – placing it firmly on track to reach the target of six million users by the end of the year.

He expressed his pride in the fact that this growth had been driven by “innovations” such as faster speeds, shared plans and 4GEE Extra tariffs, but said that EE still had plenty of areas to cover if it is to maintain the lead over its rivals.

Network expansion

EE May 2014 (1) (600x800)“We fundamentally believe we must continue to drive access to 4G,” he said, adding that 4G was now available in 2,588 villages and small towns across the UK, covering three million people, many of whom can now receive faster speeds over LTE than through their fixed connection.

Double speed 4G, which rolled out in 12 cities last July, will be expanded to cover 40 major towns and cities by the end of 2014, while the operator’s plans to improve signal at major transport hubs and road and rail routes have also progressed.

4G is now available at 22 major airports, 47 train stations and there is 50 percent coverage on 50 of the UK’s busiest motorways and A-roads, a figure which increases to 80 percent for more urban routes such as the M25 and M62. EE plans to improve coverage at motorway service stations in the next phase of its “connected journey” vision.

New products

As part of this plan, EE has launched an in-car 4G Wi-Fi product, designed to support up to ten devices. The EE Buzzard is capable of providing passengers with entertainment or powering in-car navigation services and costs £49.99 on a pay-as-you-go tariff. The power is drawn from a standard 12 volt cigarette lighter and the device is designed to sit in a cup holder.

EE is also set to release two LTE-powered mobile Wi-Fi hubs – the premium Kite, which is thinner than a matchbox and costs £69.99, and the Osprey, a more robust device targeted at a younger audience which costs £49.99 on a pay-as-you go tariff.

The operator has also shown off what it calls the UK’s “most affordable tablet”, the EE Eagle, which, like the EE Kestrel, is manufactured by Huawei. It boasts a nine-inch display, a five megapixel camera, runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and is powered by a 1.6GHz quad core processor. It costs £199 on pay-as-you go or £49.99 on 24 month price plans priced £15 or more.

All four devices are available on new 24 month and one month contracts that start at £10 a month for 1GB of data or £20 for 15GB of data if you want a 4GEE Extra deal. There are also a number of new SMB plans starting from £2.50 a month for 100MB of data on a 12 month deal, and increasing to £100 for 80GB on a 24 month contract.

Business and video

“We are seeing an incredible appetite from b2b users for 4G,” said Swantee, before adding that EE has 5,100 corporate customers – a surprising figure for him, given that businesses tend to be more conservative with more technologies.

Swantee predicts a range of uses for 4G in the enterprise, especially M2M, which he believes will need LTE connections once the data becomes too “rich” for 2G and 3G. He also thinks video applications will eventually drive business demand, just as they have with consumers.

He noted that the Metropolitan Police is to provide some officers with body cameras and that although he suspects these are currently connected via Wi-Fi, there will eventually be a desire for real time observation – powered, of course, by EE 4G.

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EE May 2014

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EE Buzzard