The UK’s first 4G LTE network goes live with phones from Samsung, HTC, Huawei and Nokia…and maybe Apple too

EE 4G UK LogoAfter many months of planning and negotiation, today Everything Everywhere has announced that the UK’s first 4G LTE mobile network has been switched on, and that engineers are busily preparing it for the public, promising the launch will happen “in the coming weeks.”

Everything Everywhere is the joint venture created by the merger of mobile networks Orange and T-Mobile, but from now on it will now be known simply as EE, a re-branding of the company designed to stand alongside the pre-existing Orange and T-Mobile names.

Although customers of these networks will gain access to the 4G LTE network, EE will be the primary brand name behind it, and there are plans to open 700 EE stores through which to sell the service.

Initially, customers in London, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff will receive a 4G signal, with EE planning to expand to Edinburgh, Belfast, Derby, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Southampton by the end of the year. This will represent a third of the UK’s population and around 20 million people.

In 2013, coverage will reach 70-percent of the population and cover towns and rural areas, and EE has a goal of reaching 98-percent coverage by 2014.

Speeds and Phones.

EE’s press pack says its 4G network will offer download speeds of 8-12Mbps, with a claimed maximum of 40Mbps, while upload speeds will be 5-6Mbps and a maximum of 15Mbps.

As a comparison, a recent PCMag.com test of the USA’s 4G network saw Verizon come out on top, with an average download speed of 8.89Mbps and an upload of 6.46Mbps. Maximum speeds attained were 49.22Mbps and 17.24Mbps respectively.

A total of five new phones will be offered to customers who want to enjoy fast 4G speeds. These are the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, the HTC One XL, the Huawei Ascend P1 LTE and the new Nokia Lumia 820 and Lumia 920.

Ofcom’s spectrum auction.

EE’s 4G network has caused considerable controversy in the industry since the company announced its intentions back in February. Through the Orange/T-Mobile merger, the company amassed a large stock of the 1800Mhz spectrum — previously used for 2G connections — on which it decided to launch a 4G network.

Despite outrage from its competitors, the UK’s communication regulator, Ofcom, approved Everything Everywhere’s plan during the summer.

The complaints revolved around an inability for competing networks to counter the move, due to a lack of bandwidth in the required 1800Mhz spectrum, and the potential for customer confusion ahead of Ofcom’s own 4G spectrum auction. Fear over masses of lost revenue was, of course, the elephant in the room.

Ofcom will be auctioning off spectrum in the 800Mhz and 2.6Ghz band early next year, expressly for the purpose of introducing 4G LTE to the UK. The spectrum auction has seen several delays, resulting in it being unlikely that 4G services on these bands will begin before the second half of 2013.

Despite this 12-month head start, Everything Everywhere will still be bidding for spectrum in Ofcom’s auction next year, but its plans regarding the operation of two 4G networks aren’t clear.

iPhone 5

The timing of EE’s announcement may indicate a desire to cash-in on tomorrow’s expected iPhone 5 launch. It’s almost certain the new iPhone will support various 4G LTE bands, and if it includes 1800Mhz, then EE will have the distinct advantage of being able to offer an incredibly desirable phone on its new network.

It’s not just the UK and EE that would benefit from an 1800Mhz-compatible iPhone 5 either, as a report by WirelessIntelligence.com says there are 27 other LTE networks in the world also using that bandwidth, and that “re-farming” of 2G bandwidth for 4G use will only become more popular.

Does EE know something we don’t about the iPhone 5’s radio, or is it a strategic gamble? If it pays off, EE will not only have the makings of an amazing advertising campaign with which to launch “4GEE” in the UK, but a potential winner on its hands too.

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