EE 4G rollout ramping up in rural areas & along commuter routes

EE has set out plans to boost accessibility to its 4G services in rural areas and along major commuting routes within the UK, as part of the second wave of its superfast network rollout.

Speaking at an event in central London earlier today, Olaf Swantee, EE's CEO, said the company is keen to press ahead with its 4G rollout and capitalise on the fact more customers are now opting for 4G contracts than 3G data plans.

This "tipping point", as Swantee described it, took place for the first time this month.

When we rollout 4G we're upgrading all the 2G equipment in our network, so we are improving the voice quality throughout the same project.

"That is, when we still don't have the full coverage of the UK, and we still have a lot of areas to cover and we have competitors that are far behind us in terms of coverage, and yet already today we have already reached that major milestone," he said.

As part of the next phase of its rollout, the mobile operator has pledged to bring its 4G services to a further 2,588 UK villages with populations of under 10,000 people, and claims to already be offering them to 3 million people living in similar areas.

The EE chief said the operator also wants to boost the 4G user experience for commuters by stepping up its efforts to provide network access along motorways, A-roads and train routes.

This has already seen EE bring 4G to 47 major train stations and 22 airports in the UK, Swantee said, while 50 per cent of our busiest motorways and A-roads already have it.

Furthermore, it's also working to bolster the quality of 2G signals along these routes to reduce the number of dropped calls people experience while out and about.

Over time, this will be extended to include B-roads too.

"When we talk to big corporate clients about 4G, and when they deploy 4G, typically employees would say, I really like 4G because I can now make phone calls in more places'," he explained.

"4G is obviously designed for the internet signal, and not designed for voice but what [highlights] is the importance of voice and the importance in reducing dropped calls.

"So when we rollout 4G we're upgrading all this equipment in our network, 2G equipment at the same time, so we are improving the voice quality throughout the same project," he added.

EE also showcased a number of new devices it's planning to bring to market over the next couple of months, including what it claims is the UK's first 4G car Wi-Fi hub.

The device has been labelled Buzzard and works in any car with a 12v adaptor socket and provides 4G Wi-Fi connectivity for up to 10 devices. It is available on a Pay-As-You-Go contract for 49.99.

This will be available to buy on 28 May.

Speaking at the event, Pippa Dunn, chief marketing officer at EE, said the addressable market for the device is huge as there are 30 million cars on the road in the UK that could potentially use it.

However, she was keen to stress the device is aimed at passengers, and shouldn't be a source of distraction for drivers.

"It [Buzzard] is very much positioned at the passengers in the car and not the driver of the car. I do think there is a responsibility on the individual driving the car that they are driving the car to make sure they are driving and not using their mobile phones."

The company is also planning to follow up the release of its Kestral smartphone with an Android-based Huawei tablet that Dunn claimed matches the Apple iPad mini "spec-for-spec" and is reportedly the UK's most affordable device of its kind at 199.

It's also available for 49.99 to Pay-As-You-Go customers and on its 24-month pay monthly plans of 15 and above from 28 May.

"The Eagle is comparable to the iPad mini... and on some specs it is actually better," said Dunn.

"This is about democratising 4G and ensuring as many people as possible can use it."

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.