EE crosses 100 cities covered with LTE, as rivals get on their marks

EE revealed a number of new LTE milestones on Wednesday, as the UK operator tried to steal some of the thunder from rivals Vodafone UK and Telefónica's O2 UK ahead of their respective LTE network launches on Thursday.

EE said it now provides LTE services in 105 towns after Accrington was named as the 100th town to get the high-speed services. EE also said LTE services were switched on in 10 new towns in total this month, including Ashford, Bicester, Colchester, Guildford, Milton Keynes, Redhill, Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Woking. This means that EE now covers 60 per cent of the UK population within 10 months of service launch. Its target is to cover 98 per cent of the population by the end of 2014.

In addition, EE has switched on "double-speed" LTE services, which promise average speeds of 24-30 Mbps, in five more towns this month: Sunderland, Sutton Coldfield, Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton. EE's double-speed LTE, made available via wider spectrum channels on EE"s 1800 MHz airwaves, is now available in 20 towns and cities across the UK, EE said.

"The key to a successful 4G launch is making the service available in as many places as possible – the more people use 4G, the more they want 4G," EE CEO Olaf Swantee said in a statement. "We have built amazing momentum with one of the fastest 4G rollouts in the world, a strong range of devices, great content offers and compelling pricing."

EE, which serves a total customer base of 27 million together with Orange UK and T-Mobile UK, will face competition on the LTE market for the first time as of tomorrow (Aug. 29) when both Vodafone and O2 UK switch on their services. In terms of entry price, there is not too much to choose between the operators, as EE and O2 offer an entry plan of £26 (€30 or $40) with 1 GB of data. Vodafone offers 2 GB of data with its £26 plan.

O2 and Vodafone are both sweetening their offers with inclusive content such as music and sports, although coverage will take some time to reach EE's level. Vodafone is only launching in London with 12 more cities to follow this year, while O2 UK is also targeting 13 cities by the end of the year.

Nonetheless, as things stand neither operator has exactly haemorrhaged users to EE because of LTE; of EE's around 700,000 LTE subscribers, around two thirds are former Orange and T-Mobile customers who have opted for a new "4GEE" plan. It seems that users are still biding their time to see what their own carrier will do. Now more details are available, it will be interesting to see how this will affect user behaviour in the coming months.

Meanwhile 3 UK subscribers will still have to wait a month or two to see what their operator will offer in terms of LTE. The operator has so far said it will not charge more for LTE, and it's also possible that it will maintain its unlimited data plans for LTE.

"3's all-you-can-eat mobile data plan and no 4G price premium approach will be difficult to beat,"  Analysys Mason analyst Ronan de Renesse wrote in a research note. "We expect content and service bundles to provide brand and service differentiation in the long run and the ability to add Wi-Fi to the cellular service could also become an important service differentiator. 4G handsets will have less impact on operator positioning due to a lack of exclusivities and the high likelihood that the next iPhone model will support all UK 4G spectrum bands."

Analysys Mason predicts that the UK will be the third largest LTE market in Europe by the end of 2014 with nearly 8 million connections, after France and Germany.

For more:
- see this EE release

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O2 to cover 5M in the UK with LTE by end of August
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Correction, Aug. 29, 2013: This article incorrctly stated the data allowance for Vodafone UK's £26 LTE plan. The operator offers 2 GB of data with that plan, not 1 GB.