Industry casts critical eye over EE's 4G plans


Networking industry watchers have broadly welcomed Everything Everywhere's plans to roll out 4G services to 16 UK cities by Christmas.

The comms provider re-launched itself as "EE" at an event in central London yesterday.

The company has been embroiled in an ongoing war of words with several network operators since announcing plans to reuse part of its 1800 MHz spectrum to offer 4G services by the end of the year.

Its competitors, which include Vodafone and O2 have previously objected to the move, claiming it would give EE an unfair advantage, as they will have to wait until the Government's spectrum auction takes place to launch their own 4G services.

EE's plans won the approval of comms regulator Ofcom last month, granting the company permission to start offering 4G services to its customers from 11 September 2012.

Yesterday, EE set out its superfast 4G and fibre broadbrand strategy, and said 16 UK cities will be able to benefit from 4G by Christmas.

EE chief executive, Olaf Swantee, also said the firm hopes to offer outdoor 4G coverage to 98 per cent of the UK population by the end of 2014.

The UK has been criticised for being late to the 4G party.

Speaking to IT Pro, Matthew Howett, lead regulatory telecoms analyst at Ovum, said, to achieve its 4G coverage ambitions, EE would probably need to purchase additional spectrum during the Government's auction.

"The UK has been criticised in the past for being late to the party with 4G and EE's plans are very aggressive. To achieve them, further investment is likely to be needed" he added.

In a statement to IT Pro, Vodafone shrugged off EE's coverage pronouncements, claiming it has already made similar statements of intent.

For instance, Vodafone announced plans in June to offer 4G indoor coverage to 98 per cent of the population by 2015.

"We think 4G is a great opportunity. However, we have chosen to launch in the New Year on new spectrum rather than crowd existing capacity," said a Vodafone spokesperson. "This lets us provide the indoor coverage that we know is important to our customers."

Speaking to IT Pro, Rob Bamforth, communications industry watcher at Quocirca, said the EE announcement should result in the war of words between the operators finally winding down.

"There comes a time when the best way of beating the competition is to out-innovate them and produce better products and services," said Bamforth.

"Maybe there's a realisation from Vodafone and O2 now that this is the best thing to do."

Bamforth described the head start EE has over its 4G rivals as a "short-term advantage", claiming there are plenty of ways for other players in the comms space to win business.

However, the company's new branding might prove more problematic for its competitors, as EE, Orange and T-Mobile all now have clearly defined propositions.

At yesterday's event, Orange was marked out as a purveyor of superfast 3G, T-Mobile was positioned as a value brand, and EE will specialise in the delivery of 4G and fibre broadband to home users and businesses.

"The challenge the competition will face will be finding ways to look less like phone companies and more like communications companies, which is precisely what they are," added Bamforth.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.