The ink is still drying on the EE takeover by BT and we've already news today of a change from EE, designed to improve their network, especially for UK rural coverage. EE (and presumably the parent company) is planning to invest £1.5 billion over the next couple of years with a raft of network and behind-the-scenes improvements. Some of these improvements are more exciting than others, so without further ado let's take a look.
The first part of this announcement is that EE are to increase their 4G LTE coverage such that it will overtake their 2G GSM coverage by 2017. Their claim is that "superfast 4G will reach more than 99% of the population" in the next three years, with double speed 4G LTE to reach 90% over the same time frame (this has a target speed of 60 Mbps). Their highest capacity 4G+ service will reach twenty British cities by 2017, offering a day-to-day 150 Mbps network speed. As part of these improvements, they're aiming to improve their rural coverage through innovative, new technologies to provide coverage for 90% of the UK geography (a subtle but important distinction to the population coverage). EE are also pushing towards a world-leading network reliability score of 99.6%. Much of EE's work will be about covering the so-called "not spots," the areas of the country where there is poor reception. From a customer perspective, this is a better experience than having a very fast network connection, which drops off in a few known spots and leaves me in the lurch!
Some of the detailing sounds impressive, including the plan to increase UK road coverage from the current 82% to 90% in three years, starting with the motorways, then A classification roads, before the minor roads. EE are also planning to deploy 4G LTE to cover the busiest train routes. LTE has an important advantage over 3G technologies in that it is much less influenced by velocities.
EE's rural coverage will be boosted by the deployment of spectrum at the 800 MHz point to provide something of a low frequency backbone, which will be boosted by spectrum at the mid and higher ends of the frequency charts. Low frequency spectrum has stronger building penetration but lower speeds compared with the higher frequency radio signals.
At the end of the announcement, EE also highlighted that they are working towards a 4G Voice service, or VoLTE, to allow customers to handle calls over the LTE network. This will be joined by native WiFi calling for a range of iOS, Microsoft Windows and Android devices, providing the WiFi speed is at least 2 Mbps.
All in all, this investment is good news – but absolutely necessary! EE have been named as the best network for rural 'phone call quality and reliability but it's important that the UK carriers work on improving their quality of service as standing still is not acceptable. EE's announcement is good news because it will encourage the other UK carriers to work on their efforts… and might be seen as something of a charm offensive for when the Three, O2 deal is both inked and the new business (3O2, maybe!) get their act together.