The UK's largest mobile operator EE (formerly Everything Everywhere) has announced that it will double the speed and capacity of its 4G network, and has set a target of reaching one million 4G customers by the end of 2013.
By summer, EE customers in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield can expect to get average speeds of more than 20Mbps, with other cities to follow after.
The amount of 1800MHz spectrum bandwidth dedicated to 4G will also be increased from 10MHz to 20MHz, indicating a doubling of capacity at each cell.
EE told Techworld that this has been made possible thanks to the ongoing integration of Orange and T-Mobile's 2G networks. By physically replacing the 2G equipment on both networks, and by integrating the networks to a single piece of tin, EE has freed up spectrum in the 1800MHz band which can now be re-farmed for 4G services.
Speaking at a press event in London, EE's CEO Olaf Swantee said that trials of the new technology in Cardiff have already seen headline speeds reach 80Mbps.
The company claims that the new “double speed” 4G will revolutionise working practices for content-heavy businesses, allowing them to upload and share large files, stream HD video and speak on a video conference call over IP, all in real time on mobile.
“Mobile users in the UK have a huge appetite for data-rich applications, and this will only grow as people become more familiar with and reliant upon next generation technologies and services,” he said.
“Our double speed 4G network will provide developers with the quality and speeds needed to develop the next wave of killer 4G apps. Whatever innovations they come up with, we’re ready.”
Swantee added that the rollout would not slow down EE's coverage rollout, which is expected to reach over 80 cities and towns by the end of June, delivering 55 percent coverage.
EE holds 63 percent of the UK spectrum at 1800MHz, which it has been using to roll out 4G so far. In Ofcom's recent spectrum auction, it also acquired 5MHz of 800MHz spectrum and 35MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum.
The newly acquired spectrum will support the existing 1800MHz network to further increase capacity and reach, the company said.
Before the end of 2013, EE is also aiming to trial carrier aggregation, a fundamental feature of LTE-Advanced, combining spectrum from different bands to further boost performance, speed and capacity. This is expected to provide headline speeds of up to 300Mbps, according to EE.
EE claims to have over 1,000 corporate accounts. These include the likes of the London Air Ambulance Service, which uses 4G to transmit massive patient data files to the receiving hospital, and construction company Kier, which is using 4G to set up remote sites in a fraction of the time that a fixed line connection can be installed.
“What we were surprised about was the uptake of 4G in business, in particular in SMBs,” said Swantee. “SMBs tend to be quite conservative when it comes to technologies, in fact it's one of these segments of the market that has been fairly late in deploying smartphones. And yet 4G is deployed quickly.
“This is probably to do with the fact that increasingly workforces are becoming mobile, so it is all about productivity on the road, making sure that people have access to critical applications that otherwise they couldn't,” he added.