EE has walked away from talks with rival Three about a spectrum share, choosing to use its low-frequency allocation to increase coverage in rural areas and commuter routes.
Last month, CEO David Dyson said the two companies were discussing teaming up to best use their 800MHz spectrum. Both have a 2x5MHz holding, which has been seen by Telecom Italia CEO Franco Bernabe as insufficient on its own to offer a full 4G service.
However, it is understood that EE has cooled on any potential spectrum share, which would have been subject to approval from Ofcom. The operator is believed to be working on using the spectrum in rural areas and major commuter routes. Low frequency spectrum has greater penetration and less capacity, meaning it is better suited for giving coverage inside of buildings and in remote areas where fewer masts need to be built. The operator said a focus in the coming months would be extending 4G into shopping centres, airports and along main commuter routes.
EE CEO Olaf Swantee was bullish last week when he said the operator’s spectrum holding was enough to outpace rivals. Speaking to journalists, he said: ‘We know that O2 and Three can’t [keep up] when they come with their own 4G networks.’ However, rival Vodafone spent the most money buying spectrum during this year’s auction, spending almost £800m. Swantee said: ‘Vodafone is difficult to understand when they talk about 4G. In theory, they have high-end spectrum but they have been very negative about spectrum above 800MHz.’
EE has followed Vodafone’s lead in announcing that it will sell bundles of 4G data later this summer. Targeted at families, the bundles will allow people to access the same pool of data, or allow a single user to access 4G through several devices. It is expected to be priced differently to existing price plans, which have been criticised for being too expensive. Customers will be able to buy handsets as part of the bundles. Swantee singled out Sony as making it easier for customers to buy 4G plans because it was bringing out more affordable handsets.
The operator also announced that consumers will be able to sign up to prepay 4G plans, again to come later this summer. Later this month the operator is set to introduce double speed 4G to Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield. The amped up service will offer download speeds of between 24 and 30MBps.
Ikea and Renault using EE's 4G
EE’s chief said he was surprised at the rate of take-up of 4G among corporates, with more than 2,200 companies using next generation mobile.
Among the companies who have recently signed up are Clifford Chance, IKEA, Renault UK and Vector Aerospace, as well as public sector bodies like NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.
Swantee said: ‘We always thought b2b would take more time. Businesses are generally more conservative so it was surprising to see businesses sign up to 4G to improve productivity and launch new applications.’
Author: Graeme Neill