EE 4G customer base hits 7.7 million subscribers in the UK

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EE continues to reap the benefits of early 4G deployment, with the operator smashing the 4G sign-up target it set for 2014.

The network added 5.7 million new 4G customers to its network in 2014 and now has a total of 7.7 million 4G users. EE started 2014 with 2 million, and beat its 12-month customer sign-up target of six million.

The mobile operator said 1.7 million of these customers joined the firm in the last two months, suggesting the run-up to Christmas a time when people often get bought new smartphones may have given it a boost.

The past 12 months has seen a number of EE's competitors including Vodafone, Three and O2 step up their 4G deployment efforts. Despite this, the company claims to have signed up more new customers to its 4G plans than any other operator in 2014.

Speaking to IT Pro, John Delaney, associate vice president of mobility at analyst house IDC, said EE's success to date can be largely attributed to the year-long head start it had over its rivals to launch its 4G network.

As reported by IT Pro at the time, Ofcom gave EE permission in August 2012 to re-use its 1800 MHz spectrum to provide 4G services across the UK, while the likes of Vodafone, O2 and Three had to await the outcome of the regulator's spectrum auction.

As a result, EE was able to press ahead with the launch of its network in September 2012, while O2 and Vodafone had to wait until August 2013.

"That head start is probably the most important reason why EE is ahead of its competitors today," said Delaney.

"In the early stages of a mobile generation rollout, one of the key differentiators is coverage and EE had a year's head start to build that [out] before its competitors even got off the starting block... and it's very difficult to close that kind of gap quickly."

The number of towns and cities in the UK that could access its 4G network also increased over the course of 2014, which would have undoubtedly helped increase the number of people using it.

In total, EE made its 4G network available to 350 more towns and cities last year, meaning its services can now be accessed by users residing in 510 UK locations.

As such, the company said its network is now within reach to around 80 per cent of the population and that this figure is on target to hit 98 per cent by the end of 2015.

Its 4G service is also available in 3,894 villages and small towns, providing many of these rural and remote areas with access to superfast broadband for the first time.

As a result of all this adoption, six times more 4G data was used by the firm's customers in 2014 than the previous year, with EE crediting user appetites for sharing photos and videos on social media sites and streaming content from the likes of YouTube and Netflix.

The price is right

Along with its coverage, EE's pricing strategy has also stood the firm in good stead over the past 12 months.

"They've been very clever on their pricing strategy, as they've come out with a constant series of innovations in that area. They didn't have pre-paid price plans to begin with, but they brought that in along with shared device plans," Delaney added.

"And the other thing they did from day one was all their 4g plans had unlimited voice and text. That immediately angles it towards the higher paying customers."

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.