Full speed ahead, as EE reveals 4G boost for the summer

The carrier EE has a head-start on 4G in the UK, but a recently concluded spectrum auction will allow its rivals to join the party this summer. So, ahead of that, EE has announced that it will be doubling its LTE speeds in a few months’ time, reaching a “headline” speed of 80Mbps (i.e. the speed you will get if you’re dangling from a mobile mast with one hand) and a real-world average of over 20Mbps.

EE gets to do this because it is using 1800MHz spectrum – formerly dedicated to 2G services – for its 4G. As it is the result of a merger of France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom’s UK operators, Orange and T-Mobile, it has an unusually large amount of this spectrum to play with (even after giving some to rival Three), and it will double the speeds by simply doubling the amount of 1800MHz spectrum it dedicates to LTE, from 10MHz to 20MHz.

As well as warding off the threat of rival LTE carriers, the speed boost may also convince some consumers who see LTE as not that much faster than HSPA+, and therefore not worth the switch.

Here’s what EE chief Olaf Swantee said in a statement:

“We are ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of the digital revolution. Having already pioneered 4G here, we’re now advancing the country’s infrastructure again with an even faster, even higher-capacity network, and at no extra cost to our customers.

“Since we launched 4G, we’ve seen a huge shift in the way people are using mobile. Video already accounts for 24 percent of all traffic on our 4G network – that’s significantly more than on 3G. Maps, mobile commerce, sat-nav tools and cloud services are all seeing a similar rise. Mobile users in the UK have a huge appetite for data-rich applications, and this will only grow as people become more familiar with and reliant upon next generation technologies and services.”

On the subject of take-up, EE said it hoped to have a million 4G customers by the end of the year:

“Among 4G network rollouts around the world, converting 10 percent of pay monthly base after 24 months is considered to indicate a successful deployment. More than one million 4GEE customers would represent around 8 percent of the EE pay monthly user base, upgraded or acquired from rival networks within just 14 months.”

The carrier added that it intended to trial carrier aggregation this year, combining spectrum from the different bands it has at its disposal – in addition to the 1800MHz spectrum, EE picked up 800MHz and 2.6MHz spectrum at the auction. Carrier aggregation is key to LTE-Advanced, the next generation of LTE and, technically speaking, the first mobile broadband technology that should be able to bear the moniker “4G”. EE also noted that it was working on supplying its customers with voice-over-Wi-Fi services — a move that might lessen the load on its LTE network — and voice-over-LTE.

Right now, EE’s LTE network covers 50 towns and cities in the UK. The doubling of the speeds will affect customers in 10 of those cities initially, namely Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield.

Here’s hoping EE also boosts the amount of data it offers for its 4G customers — the entry-level package there comes with just 500MB, which already doesn’t go far with 10Mbps usage speeds.