UK’s 4G race begins: 3M LTE connections projected in 2 years

There may not be a lick of 4G in the UK today, but now that mega-carrier Everything Everywhere has the go ahead to launch LTE, connections will ramp up quickly, according to a new report. Wireless Intelligence projects that UK LTE connections will hit 3 million by the third quarter of 2014.

That would be roughly 4 percent of today’s UK mobile subscription total and about 5 percent of the population. But keep in mind that for much of that two-year period there will be only a single operator offering 4G services.

Everything Everywhere – formed from the UK combination of France Telecom’s Orange(s fte) and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile – has permission from regulator Ofcom to launch LTE this year using its 1800 MHz 2G spectrum, a luxury most of its competitors don’t have. EE is required to divest 30 MHz of its spectrum, which it will turn over to 3 UK. But it also has a year before it has to close the deal, meaning 3 could have to wait until the end of 2013 to activate its Samsung-built network, according to Wireless Intelligence, which is the analysis arm of the GSM Association.

Meanwhile O2(s tef) and Vodafone(s vod) have to wait until the UK spectrum auctions, which should wrap up in March. That puts EE at significant advantage, a fact that Vodafone has vigorously protested. Consequently, the distribution of those anticipated 3 million subscribers will be weighted heavily toward EE, accounting for 44 percent, or 1.32 million, of those connections, the report found.

According to Wireless Intelligence senior analyst Joss Gillet:

Everything Everywhere is set to benefit from a 12-month head start in the commercialisation of LTE services. Its success will depend on its network coverage plans, as well as its portfolio of devices and service tariffs. TeliaSonera launched the world’s first LTE networks in Sweden and Norway in late 2009. But despite this first-mover advantage, the operator’s early LTE adoption was dampened by a lack of compelling LTE devices, expensive tariffs and limited network coverage. However, EE may avoid many of these problems as the global LTE market has evolved rapidly over the last two years, with innovative pricing structures and the increasing availability of attractive smartphone models. EE’s focus at launch will be on LTE-enabled dongles and (possibly) tablets compatible with its 1.8 GHz band – with LTE smartphones likely to arrive either late this year or in early 2013.

Interestingly, Gillet expects UK operators to adopt different 4G pricing models than US operators. While Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod), AT&T(s t) and Sprint(s s) are charging the same rates for LTE data as they are for 3G, their UK counterparts will charge premium rates for the additional speed, Gillet said. For instance a subscriber on a 10 GB 3G plan would pay €15 (US $18.75) more a month for the same data bucket.

LTE image courtesy of Shutterstock user Inq