EE launches UK’s first 4G LTE network October 30, other carriers to wait until 2013

EE 4G BannerThe UK is poised to join the USA and many other countries around the world in offering 4G LTE high speed data to its citizens. This week has seen some important developments, not only because its first 4G LTE network has been given a launch date, but also due to the long-awaited 4G spectrum auction being brought forward to January 2013.

It’s EE, the parent company of Orange and T-Mobile, that has the honor of being the first to switch on a 4G signal. After months of legal wrangling, the network has confirmed it’ll provide a 4G connection in 10 cities from October 30.

CEO Olaf Swantee said in a statement that he was “delighted” to announce the launch of both EE as a brand — a network of EE stores will be opening around the country, through which EE’s 4G LTE phones will be sold — and “the UK’s first super fast mobile 4G and fibre broadband service.”

Initially expected to launch only in London, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol, delays have clearly allowed EE to boost its coverage, as 10 cities will now see the benefit of 4G from day one. A press event will be held soon, where those 10 cities and the final six expected to join them by the end of the year, will be revealed.

Early adopters of EE’s 4G service will need a compatible phone, a selection of which can be purchased through the company. The choice may be slim, but it’s eclectic, with the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, the HTC One XL and the Huawei P1 LTE all available now. The Galaxy Note 2 will also be joining them from October 15, and the Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 Windows Phone 8 devices will be added later in the year. Eligible Orange and T-Mobile subscribers will be offered the chance to upgrade too.

Tariff prices haven’t been announced yet, and will probably be discussed at the aforementioned press event, but it’s speculated that monthly costs will increase by around £10.

Spectrum auction brought forward

To enable it to be first out the gate with 4G, EE has refarmed its plentiful reserves of 1800MHz spectrum for 4G use. Its competitors, who don’t have anywhere near enough 1800MHz spectrum to compete, are understandably upset with both EE and the UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom, who approved the deal back in March.

Since then it has been one long round of complaints and threats from rivals, along with hastily formed partnerships — Vodafone and O2 have joined forces to jointly maintain its nationwide network infrastructure, for example — culminating this week in a meeting between them, Ofcom, EE and the UK government to sort it all out.

Competing firms Vodafone, O2 and Three have been considering legal action against EE, a move that would have delayed both EE’s 4G network launch, and Ofcom’s spectrum auction, which is essential to getting everyone else up and running for 4G.

The meeting not only saw the end of the legal threat, but also the date of the spectrum auction being brought forward to January 2013, which minimizes the period of exclusivity EE has over 4G in the UK. Everybody’s happy, then.

At the auction, all UK networks have the chance to bid on a slice of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum, which is currently being cleared in preparation for use with 4G. Once the auction concludes, it’s estimated that it will take five or six months to get everything ready.

These positive developments mean Vodafone, O2 and Three will join the 4G party six months earlier than previously thought, with a limited launch being touted for summer 2013. Until then, EE gets to enjoy its moment in the sun as the UK’s only purveyor of high speed 4G data.

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