EE goes heavy on LTE, "floating" small cells in €2bn spree

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UK operator EE will see its 4G footprint overtake 2G within two years, as it aims to bring LTE-Advanced to 20 cities by 2018 and trials new technology including floating small cells.

The operator, which is set to be taken over by BT, announced a £1.5 billion investment plan for the next three years, which it said would lead to more than 99 percent of the UK's population, and 90 percent of its geography, accessing LTE.

It said it would use its 800MHz spectrum, which it bought as part of the 2013 auction, to expand its rural LTE footprint. It said it would cover an area of more than 1,500 square miles by 2018.

Around 90 percent of the UK will be able to access data speeds of up to 60MBps by the same timetable, with LTE-Advanced being introduced to 20 cities within three years, bringing speeds of 150MBps.

It said its Wi-Fi Calling service, which Mobile Europe revealed had been experiencing issues, would be launched in the coming months, instead of its original release by the end of last year. EE is also planning to introduce Voice-over-LTE during 2015, using its 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum holdings.

Other announcements included the trialling of "Air Masts", which it said were small cells in the sky held by tethered balloons or unmanned craft. These cells would be used to bring connectivity to hard to reach areas. EE is following the likes of Google and Facebook, who have also been experimenting with aerial technology.

The operator reiterated plans to use micro network technology to bring 1,500 communities onto its network by 2018.

Elsewhere, it will improve voice coverage on the UKs roads from 82 percent to more than 90 percent by 2017, with plans to extend connectivity on motorways initially. It will also work on extending 4G coverage onto busy train routes.

The operator repeated calls for annual licence fees for spectrum to be lowered and planning rules to be relaxed, to help its infrastructure investment.

EE CEO Olaf Swantee said: "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.”

EE said there were 15 million LTE users in the UK. However, it predicted that given the expected rise in the Internet of Things, it will sell as many connected devices as smartphones by 2017.

The operator was voted the UK's best performing operator by RootMetrics in a report it released yesterday.

Looking ahead, EE Principal Network Architect Andy Sutton added: "“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.

"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.”

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