EE Calls For Government Action As 4G Launches In Rural Cumbria

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 CEO Olaf Swantee wants the government to do more to encourage the deployment of 4G in rural areas

EE has launched 4G in the Northern Fells area of Cumbria, covering 2,000 homes and businesses with superfast broadband for the first time, and has called on the government to do more to encourage the rollout of 4G, including reducing the proposed increases to the cost of 3G licenses.

The operator has been holding a trial in the area surrounding Threlkeld since May 2012, and has since expanded the network to cover 100 square miles, reaching as far north as Wigton. EE plans to extend the network to cover the rest of Cumbria by March 2014, with the town of Carlisle in the north of the county already covered by LTE.

A special promotional price of £25 for 20GB will be offered from 6 December, along with a range of top ups costing between £7.50 and £15 available, with a router costing £69.99 required to access the network.

Cumbria 4G network

Northern Fells Cumbria, © Bobble Hat at the English language WikipediaLocal organisations say that access to the faster speeds of EE 4G will transform lives and improve the local economy of the Northern Fells area, which currently has no comparable fixed broadband connection despite having the highest concentration of home workers in the UK.

The Northern Fells Broadband Group estimated that delivering fibre to the area would cost around £10 million, compared to the £1 million it has cost to deploy LTE. BT has won the government money available from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) initiative for Cumbria, but this is restricted to fibre deployment.

CEO Olaf Swantee says the launch of 4G in the region demonstrates how mobile broadband technologies can be used to deliver superfast broadband in areas where fixed connections are not economically viable.

“Our goal is to enhance the digital lives of everyone in the UK, and this major expansion of our superfast broadband service in one of the most rural and geographically challenging areas of the country is a big step towards that goal,” he says. “There is a lot of work to do in 2014 to reach more people and businesses in rural areas, and investment-friendly government policies have an important role to play in supporting this, but today we have proven that 4G has the capability to connect this country’s unconnected, and EE intends to continue to be at the forefront of that.”

Rural mobile broadband

Olaf Swantee EE 4G Huawei Forum (2) (800x600)From next year, Ofcom plans to charge UK mobile operators up to five times more in annual license fees for 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum currently used for 3G and 4G services, a hike which will see EE’s licence bill increase from £24.9 million to £107.1 million.

Swantee claims the £82 million increase is the same amount it would cost to deliver superfast broadband to an area the size of Wales and also wants the government to increase support for the deployment of wireless technology in rural areas rather than retain its focus on fibre.

However the government has already earmarked £250 million in funding to bring superfast broadband to areas of the country not covered by BDUK, and has reportedly invited mobile operators to participate in the next phase of the plan to extend superfast broadband to 98 percent of the UK by 2018.

EE also plans to bring 4G to Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, an area which has never received superfast broadband, and has also announced it will roll out LTE-Advanced in London next year, as it seeks to improve coverage in urban areas too.

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