The UK's networks and Ofcom reveal to Mobile their predictions and targets for this year.
Consumer expectations of 4G are changing, with EE’s MD of channels and trading, Ettiene Brandt, telling Mobile: ‘4G has crossed over from a “nice to have” to being essential, and that’s because of changes to how people are using mobile networks. Smartphones are so powerful and versatile, people use them for everything, from creativity with videos and pictures, to relying on them for work and keeping in touch with loved ones. And the critical thing is that they want to do all of this everywhere they go – not just at home, work, or in major cities and towns.
‘By September 2017, we predict 95% of EE customers will have 4G devices, and by the end of 2017 we’ll cover more than 92% of the UK geography by 2020 – so the amount of data, and places people can access 4G, will grow immensely.
‘We also firmly believe that more transparency about network data will be a trend in 2017 – we’ve called on the industry to provide consumers with clearer information on coverage, so customers can quickly and easily understand what kind of network experience they’ll have where.’
Vodafone UK’s CTO Jorge Fernandes also outlines its network strategy: ‘Our first and highest priority? Pushing ahead to complete ‘Project Beacon’ (the full upgrade of our network) by the end of the year. We want customers to continue to be confident in using our network wherever they go, to never experience call drops, and to have reliable data whenever they want to use it. The recent P3 results highlight that our hard work and massive investment over the past few years is paying off, but our aim for the programme is 98% coverage by the end of 2017. So our network footprint will continue to expand across rural areas whilst the use of innovative technology solutions, such as small cell technology or new spectrum, will increase coverage in urban area in order to meet customers’ increasing demand and a 5G future. We are well on the way.’
It’s not just Vodafone eyeing up the potential to add new spectrum either. When questioned about O2’s ability to compete at the auction, Telefonica UK CEO Mark Evans told Mobile: ‘Like every carrier we will turn up. and we will turn up at the upcoming spectrum auction, we’ll be well equipped and of course what we’ve said to the regulator is that if the regulator wants to ensure a four-player market – and they’ve made a very clear stated objective of that – then they need to set the rules for that auction and commence it with exactly that aim.’
While Three’s ‘Make the Air Fair’ campaign to get a 30% 4G spectrum cap will rumble on in 2017 until the auction, the operator is also expecting other methods of improving data consumption for customers, with Dixon predicting: ‘The industry will continue the trend of moving towards seamless connectivity and handover between cellular and WiFi networks. Customers just want a service that works wherever they are and allows them to connect to their friends and the wider world. WiFi is a complementary technology to cellular and seamless handoff between the two will become the norm.’
Ofcom also outlined their 2017 plans for working towards 100% geographic coverage, with CEO Sharon White telling the operators in a now-revealed letter: ‘We envisage a programme of work through to next summer to understand where the current investment programmes are likely to take us and identify the options for achieving varying levels of further coverage and quality of service. Along with the consideration of broader outdoor coverage, I expect the work to focus on challenges such as indoor coverage, and coverage along transport corridors.’