What’s next for 4G? EE shows us what it has up its sleeve

EE’s unveiled the next phase of its plan to roll-out 4G across the country. More 4G in rural areas, faster speeds in cities and towns, and coverage on busy commuter routes are all on the cards for 2014.

At an event held in Soho this morning, EE discussed the current state of its 4G service, and its plans for the next phase of the rolling it out. These include offering 4G in rural areas and along commuter routes, as well as range of new mobile Wi-Fi devices.

The mobile network's just finished a rural roll-out, expanding 4G coverage to 2,588 villages and small towns across the UK, including tiny settlements like Silverburn in Scotland, which has a population of less than 65 people.

According to an EE spokesman, the network's going to focus on bringing 4G to more rural areas over the coming months: "Even with government and EU money, fixed-line broadband isn't going to reach some of these places, but we can give them 4G, which will get them online much faster."

EE's also bringing 4G to heavily used travel routes. For example, it's bringing it to 47 stations and 22 airports, as well as the country's busiest motorways and A roads. There're also plans to bring superfast mobile internet to the busiest motorway services, so soon you'll be able to watch YouTube while you cram down a grotty egg sandwich. You never know - it might even make it more tolerable.

The network said it'll also continue to increase network capacity in major towns and cities, bringing double-speed 4G to 40 locations by the end of 2014.

When EE became the first UK mobile network to launch 4G in 2012, it said it was aiming to provide outdoor coverage to 98% of the population by the end of 2014, so how's that progressing? Well at present, it's reached 73%, but reaching the remaining 25% may not be plain sailing.

"Realistically, we're looking at 90%," one EE spokesman told us. "[The telecom regulator] Ofcom's quadrupled the price of spectrum we'll need to expand 4G, so that's going to limit what every network can do."

One thing we can be sure is increasing, however, is the number of people on EE 4G. EE said more people are signing up to its 4G plans than 3G ones, with 3.6 million now on the former. Switching to faster mobile internet has led to a change in the way it's used too, with average data usage increasing by 66%, which has largely been driven by an increasing amount of video being watched.

In fact, according to EE chief exec Olaf Swantee, data usage is going to go through the roof over the next few years: "Data growth is going to accelerate and by 2018 it will be 12 times what it is now."

So, with people using more and more data, will EE ever offer unlimited 4G like Three, or its own unlimited T-Mobile 3G plans? After all, EE's been criticised in the past for less than generous data limits. However, an EE spokesman told us no, not a chance.

He explained the need to deliver a consistent service in an area means they'll always have to exert a degree of control over how much people use: "Unlimited mobile is only really worthwhile for tethering [using your phone to create a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices to connect to].

"Even Three has limits on that now. If those users download huge amounts of data all the time, it will affect everyone else who's using the network. Fixed-line broadband - fibre particularly - serves those users much better."

So, there you have it - no unlimited data plans. However, he did admit he expects EE plans to evolve as usage increases, so there may potentially good news ahead if - like us - you're a heavy 4G user.

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