EE pledges to extend 4G coverage to 95% of UK landmass by 2020

EE, the UK-based mobile operator recently acquired by BT, pledged to cover 95 per cent of the UK landmass with its 4G network by 2020 in an effort to reduce the number of mobile broadband "not spots" around the country.

The operator said its ambition is to increase its 4G coverage from 60 per cent of the UK landmass today, "taking 4G to the very edges of the UK" by filling in outdoor not spots in current 4G areas and expanding 4G coverage by constructing 750 new sites. That would go beyond government targets for operators to provide voice and text coverage to 90 per cent of UK landmass by the end of 2017.

All four UK operators have obligations in terms of 4G population coverage. However, EE's move comes a week after a new report from Which? and OpenSignal revealed that UK mobile users are only able to connect to 4G half of the time.

EE said it is "challenging the mobile industry to measure vital coverage metrics by UK geography, rather than the outdated population score used today," noting that it already covers 95 per cent of the population with 4G.

The company did not comment on how much this expansion will cost, but a report in the Telegraph noted that EE is capitalising on its contract with the UK government to replace the previous TETRA emergency services network. The UK government last year selected EE to provide a resilient national mobile network as part of its £1 billion (€1.28 billion/$1.44 billion) Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP).

That deal will require the operator to support emergency services in rural areas and already requires the construction of 500 new sites. In order to deliver the emergency services network, EE pledged to invest more than its existing commitment to spend £1.5 billion on its network up to 2017.

UK consumers are set to benefit from the expansion of the network to support emergency services. Marc Allera, CEO of EE, acknowledged that today's mobile consumers are increasingly demanding 4G in order to access services on smartphones and tablets.

"Customers want 4G speeds everywhere they go, and mobile operators are too used to saying 'no' to new coverage. Today, I'm saying 'yes', with an ambition to go further than any operator has ever gone, and with the ultimate aim of covering the whole UK with 4G," Allera said.

According to the Telegraph Allera also said the project would go ahead without or without changes to planning rules on building and maintaining mobile masts. However, a BBC News report quoted him as saying that some reforms would be required in order to make it easier to access sites where masts can be built and prevent landlords from charging "ransom rents". EE said it would continue to consult the government and Ofcom on these issues.

Vodafone UK, O2 UK and Three UK have all cited planning rules as one of the main obstacles to the creation of new network infrastructure such as mobile masts. The UK government recently revealed plans to ease current planning restrictions covering existing mobile infrastructure, and to build taller towers when deploying new sites.

EE also said it plans to handle all customer service calls in the UK and Ireland in future. This will lead to the creation of an additional 100 customer service jobs by the end of June 2016 and a further 500 later in the year.

For more:
- see this EE release
- see this EE release on the emergency network contract
- see this Telegraph article
- see this BBC News article

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