Everything Everywhere, the UK joint venture between Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom, said it will launch commercial LTE services in the "coming weeks," becoming the first UK operator to do so.
EE is going to exclusively launch Nokia's Lumia 920 as one of its first LTE devices.
The company is also dropping its brand name in favor of "EE" for its 4G push. T-Mobile UK and Orange UK, the respective brands of Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom, are likely to be phased out over time.
EE will initially offer seven LTE devices from four suppliers, including HTC, Huawei, Nokia and Samsung Electronics, although the operator did not give any dates for availability. Among EE's devices are Lumia 920 and Lumia 820, Nokia's new Windows Phone 8 smartphones. EE confirmed to The Verge that it struck a deal with Nokia for a period of exclusivity for Lumia 920, which is expected in UK stores by November. Other EE smartphones are Samsung's Galaxy S III, HTC's One XL and Huawei's Ascend P1 LTE. Huawei is also providing a mobile hotspot device and an LTE dongle.
Everything Everywhere says its LTE network will be available in 16 UK cities covering 20 million people by Christmas. EE will continue its LTE rollout throughout 2013 and is aiming for 98 per cent population coverage in 2014.
The company said it would place the EE name on its 700 stores, replacing the current mix of Orange, T-Mobile and Everything Everywhere shop signs. The rebranding was approved by Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom, and EE CE Olaf Swantee said the company will look to differentiate all three brands in the UK, with EE being the company's "superfast" brand.
The release of LTE spectrum in the UK has been mired in controversy. Last month, Everything Everywhere was given the green light by Ofcom, the national regulator, to offer LTE over its existing 1800 MHz spectrum. The decision provoked howls of protests from Telefónica's O2 UK and Vodafone. They complained that under Ofcom's auction process they will need to wait on the LTE sidelines until 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum is auctioned in the coming months and then cleared for use. O2 UK had announced its intention to appeal the Ofcom decision.
However, the Financial Times reported that, according to unnamed sources, the government has brokered an agreement among the country's national operators to hold off on legal action while talks take place to help all of them move toward LTE service. "The industry [would have got] to a point of mutual destruction if people started suing," an unnamed source told the FT. "This is a cooling-off period where no one can launch or litigate and where the industry can work out a collective way forward."
Finding a collective way forward might not be easy. Ofcom's LTE auction rules place bidding restrictions on some spectrum to ensure a fourth national player, which leaves the regulator open to accusations of illegal state aid. O2 UK and Vodafone are no doubt fearful that EE has a vested interest in disputing the rules, which would give it an even longer time-to-market advantage if the auction were delayed. And if Apple's soon-to-be-announced iPhone 5 is compatible with LTE in the 1800 MHz band, then O2 and Vodafone would have even greater urgency to challenge Ofcom's 1800 MHz decision and stop EE from building up an unassailable lead.
Moreover, given that EE has announced its LTE launch plans, it seems unlikely that Vodafone's compromise suggestion of not allowing EE to start LTE services until the auction is safely underway--probably in December or January--will find support from the UK joint venture.
- see this EE release
- see this FT article (sub. req.)
- see this separate FT article
- see this Reuters article
- see this CNET article
- see this The Verge article
- see this Engadget article
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