UK carrier EE, formed from the merger of Orange and T-Mobile, launched its 4G LTE network in the summer of 2012. The business has just announced their total number of 4G LTE subscribers at 7.7 million, up 5.7 million during 2014, to applause: EE is now the largest 4G LTE operator across Europe. Essentially, EE more than doubled its 4G customer base during the calendar year 2014, compared with second place UK network in the LTE market, O2, with over 3 million 4G LTE customers out of 24 million. EE’s coverage is now 80% of the UK population and they are aiming to bring this up to 98% by the end of 2015. EE currently offer LTE spectrum at the 1.8 GHz and 2.6 GHz frequencies and are pushing ahead in offering higher speed LTE coverage, called 4G+ by EE’s marketing department (and known as Category 6 to networking people, with Category 9 being trialled this year). It’s able to use its sister non-LTE brands, Orange and T-Mobile, to feed EE with customers wanting access to the higher speed data network. This demand is being driven by less expensive plans, including pre-paid, plus the cost of LTE-enabled devices is falling month on month. Another factor, which isn’t mention in EE’s report, is that we have now seen a full two years since the introduction of EE’s LTE network in the UK. This means that many customers will have upgraded their contract and so of course will have been shown the opportunity of LTE service by the salesperson. The other LTE carriers in the UK that offer LTE as an optional extra, O2 and Vodafone, will not reach the two year point until quite late in this year. This is likely to help their numbers but we won’t see the impact of this until this time next year.
Some of EE’s other news merits attention. They’ve doubled their network capacity over the course of 2014 and have plans to boost capacity in busy areas, as one might expect, by introducing the higher speed LTE networking technologies. Their data shows that the amount of data channeled over the 4G LTE network increased six fold during 2014 compared with 2013, which shows that not only are more customers adopting LTE devices but their use of the service is also growing. This is very much “as expected,” because once people get used to having higher speed networking on their devices, they tend to use it more.
EE’s subscriber growth is against a backdrop of deteriorating network speeds for the UK LTE carriers, which appear to show a trend that I have been writing about for some time: UK carriers are inexpensive but the quality simply isn’t there. There are a few reasons for this, including some Government meddling that appears to be backwards looking rather than forwards looking by setting standard that do not stretch the networks. However, EE is pushing ahead and this growth is encouraging. It’s also probably made the business appear slightly more valuable in the eyes of BT, too.