EE aims to bring 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK’s land mass by 2020, well beyond a target set by the government, new CEO Marc Allera announced at a press briefing in London, along with plans to move customer service operations to the UK after mounting criticism.
EE currently covers 60 per cent of the UK land mass when it comes to 4G and it wants to jump to 92 per cent by the end of 2017, and 95 per cent by 2020.
This will go beyond the government’s target of 90 per cent voice and text only coverage by the end of next year.
Allera (pictured), who recently replaced Olaf Swantee after BT took over EE, wants the latter to cover the UK with a “blanket of 4G”, putting it “on par with countries like Japan and South Korea”.
It will do this by building more than 750 new sites, and claims this will be the fastest network expansion of any UK operator in the last 15 years.
This is “further than any mobile operator has ever gone, and significantly beyond the furthest reaches of any 2G or 3G signal today,” the operator said.
Reports suggest it is to use the proceeds from a huge Government deal to pay for improvements to its service.
Pointing out that average monthly usage of data has moved from 400 MB to 2 GB since 2012, Allera said he expects this to go up to 10GB or more by 2020.
EE already covers 96 per cent of the population and will extend this to 98 per cent by the end of the year, but believes geographical coverage is a much more important metric because people don’t stay in one place and access from anywhere is both a need and an expectation.
Geographically, it will look to cover the remaining 5 per cent in the future, as although there is little population in some areas, coverage will eventually be required as a result of the Internet of Things.
War on not-spots
EE also said in the future it wants to be 12,000 feet up in the sky, on the sea and underground, describing its mission as a “war on not-spots”.
Allera said if a town is considered to have coverage but only has 2G, it is still a ‘not-spot’ in his eyes.
“For the average smartphone user, not-spots aren’t tolerated and 2G doesn’t deliver what they need. 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,” he said.
A recent OpenSignal report said EE is already “leading the pack in coverage”. From November to January, its 4G customers were able to connect to an LTE signal 61 per cent of the time and it was the only operator for which OpenSignal measured a coverage metric greater than 60 per cent during the testing period.
One challenge EE faces is that some landlords can charge “ransom rents” to build on their land, something Allera believes should be regulated.
He also said EE will need the cooperation of handset and equipment manufacturers. For instance, he would like device makers to support VoLTE and 4G in all smartphones.
EE’s VoLTE service currently has 300,000 users and it is now rolling out VoLTE across the UK. Allera wants that eventually a call should go from VoLTE to voice over wifi in a seamless manner.
EE also believes policy reform will be necessary to building and maintaining a widespread mobile network. This includes ensuring that proposed changes to the Electronic Communications Code support operators’ coverage ambitions and that industry, government and Ofcom work together to improve network operators’ financial incentives to invest.
EE said it will continue to consult the government and Ofcom on these issues.
The operator also announced that 4G mobile was switched on today in Shetland and the Isles of Scilly, enabled by the fibre broadband links that BT has deployed.
100 per cent of EE’s customer service calls are moving to the UK by the end of the year because the operator said it found customers are more satisfied when their concerns are dealt with by people in the UK and Ireland.
In fact, EE is the most complained about broadband provider and third most complained about mobile operator, according to Ofcom data. EE also came bottom in a recent customer satisfaction survey by the regulator.
This will also create 600 new roles which will help employment in areas like Darlington and Plymouth and create opportunities for young people. Centres in India will close.
Allera said EE has halved the number of complaints it gets in the last year and its share of complaints compared to other operators is only 16 per cent, but he is not satisfied with this and wants to improve customer service in-store and online.
“There is lots of other cool stuff we are cooking up but first there are the two big suitcases” of coverage and customer service, concluded Allera.