EE announces three-year £1.5 billion network investment plan

EE has announced a three-year, £1.5 billion network investment plan, under which the operator plans to extend its geographical coverage across the UK, including in badly or not at all connected rural areas, as well as continuing rolling out 4G with an aim for it to take over 2G by 2017.

The operator said the programme plans include extending its geographical coverage to 90% of the UK, and 99% of the population. It also said its LTE-Advanced service, which it markets as 4G+, will cover 20 major cities by 2017.

Other plans in the investment programme include the use of micro network technology such as small-cells to bring connectivity in 1,500 communities currently not connected, and increase road and highway coverage from 82% to 90%. The telco also said it will deploy lower frequency bands in the 800 MHz spectrum to extend its network by over 1,500 square miles.

“Stage one of our network strategy saw us overhaul UK mobile networks, launching 4G and changing the way people and businesses use their smart devices,” EE CEO Olaf Swantee said. “This revolution of the mobile landscape has made the UK a leader in global communications once again. Today we’re announcing the next stage with a commitment to, once again, radically improve mobile coverage, this time with a strong focus on rural UK, all while continuing to increase speeds and capacity with deeper coverage in more cities.

“Smart devices are playing an ever-increasing part in our customers’ lives in every part of the UK. With the £1.5bn investment plan, and our unceasing desire to continually improve the breadth and performance of our network, we are at the forefront of the new mobile era that is changing customers’ lives every day.”

So called not-spots, predominantly in rural areas, have been the topic of a lot of public discussion in the UK in the recent past. EE’s announcement follows the agreement between UK operators and the government in December, when the two parties came to a much less drastic solution to tackle connectivity issues than what was originally proposed by the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, such as network sharing.

The agreement terms, signed by all four operators EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, included a £5 billion collective total investment in networks, extending geographical coverage to 90% by each, and providing reliable voice signal over 2G, 3G or 4G, all by 2017.

With this in mind, EE’s announcement comes with little surprises. To knowledge, the operator’s geographical coverage is getting towards the 90% mark anyway, and just its 4G population coverage is currently at 80%, while it reaches 99% and 98% of UK’s inhabitants by 2G and 3G respectively.

EE was also keen to stress it is already looking at the next generation, and is working with technology research partners developing 5G. “We’ve invested in 4G and taken the UK back to a position of leadership in mobile, and now we’re investing in 5G so that we can define the next step, and keep both us and the UK mobile industry one step ahead,” EE Principal Network Architect Andy Sutton said.

“Working closely with academic institutions such as the 5GIC at the University of Surrey and the EU’s Horizon 2020 ‘TWEETHER’ project at Lancaster University on technologies that are truly ground-breaking, EE will continue to change the way people think of what’s possible with mobile. We will continue to evolve new 4G technologies, as they lay the perfect foundation for being a global leader in 5G.”

EE’s keenness to show support for the development of 5G seems like a natural progression, perhaps stemming from the pressure of having been the first in the UK to launch 4G. The operator likely wants to keep its position as the most advanced provider as long as possible. Last year it was almost overtaken by Vodafone in launching the country’s first commercial LTE-A service, but quickly stepped on it.

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