EE has become the first of the UK’s mobile operators to launch services based on Long Term Evolution-Advanced (LTE-A), the next-generation standard that represents an evolution of the 4G LTE technology now taking off in the UK market.
The network is being rolled out across what is known as London Tech City in the east of the capital and will provide connection speeds of up to 300Mbps, according to EE.
Services are not, however, available on a commercial basis.
From December, EE (Hatfield, UK) plans to conduct trials of the technology with partner companies in the Tech City area, but the operator says the network will be deployed across London in 2014 and expects LTE-A-compatible devices to hit the market mid-year.
“Our analysts predict that data usage will grow significantly over the next three years,” said Olaf Swantee, EE’s chief executive, in explaining the move. “In fact, our trend-mapping shows that data usage is set to rise by 750% in that period, as consumers and companies conduct more of their business and lives on-line.”
Swantee said EE would use spectrum in won in the 4G frequency auction held earlier this year to support LTE-A services.
The operator paid £589 million for 2x5MHz of 800MHz and 2x35MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum to add to its already substantial holdings in the 1800MHz band, which it has been using to provide 4G services.
EE’s vast spectrum holdings have allowed it to compete aggressively on service speeds and the operator has been launching what it calls “double speed” LTE services in various parts of the country, putting pressure on rivals Telefonica (Slough, UK) and Vodafone (Newbury, UK), which recently switched on their own 4G networks.
Even so, LTE-A would mark a dramatic improvement on what is currently possible, helping EE stay ahead of its competitors in the technology race.
The operator says the high-speed services would be facilitated through so-called “carrier aggregation”, involving the combination of 20MHz of 1800MHz and 20MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum.
It says the service will open up new opportunities for businesses and consumers.
With LTE-A, for instance, the operator could support vital, high-data business applications such as ERP and SAP in the cloud, giving enterprises more flexibility.
It could also make a push into areas of growing consumer interest, such as wearable technology and ultra high definition 4K TV.
EE says it trials will launch using a CAT6 Huawei router – the first device of its kind in the world – which can provide high-speed mobile WiFi connections to up to 20 devices.
It expects the first commercial mobile WiFi units to become available by summer 2014, with handsets to follow in the second half of the year.