Everything Everywhere, Explained: the UK gets LTE

Following the recent regulatory approval, UK telecoms operator Everything Everywhere today announced its new LTE service under the new EE brand name. The network is currently running in engineer testing mode in four cities (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and London). With few users to congest the network, EE are demonstrating speeds of as much as 35 Mbps downstream and 21 Mbps upstream, about five times faster than existing 3G services can manage on a really good day. With a tail wind. Downhill.

Before the end of the year, the company is promising a further 12 cities will be live -- Belfast, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Southampton. In all, as many as 20 million people could be sending their "Happy New Year!" messages through EE this year. Which would almost certainly collapse the new-born network, of course, but let's not rain on its parade just yet.

Initial devices that will go on sale "in the coming weeks" include the Samsung Galaxy S III, the HTC One XL, a couple from Huawei, the Nokia 820, and an exclusive on Nokia's not-actually-out-yet Lumia 920. There's also going to be Mifi-style devices and USB dongles, to get older devices online through the new network. EE also teased that "more devices will be announced shortly"; I wonder what hot new LTE enabled device it could be hinting at?

EE will also offer fibre home broadband; it promised to cover 11 million households initally, but didn't share any details about where this would be. It hasn't shared any information about tariffs yet, but I wouldn't imagine either LTE or fibre service is going to be cheap. The company isn't offering pay-as-you-go plans and is advising that existing Orange or T-Mobile customers moving to LTE will need to "agree to a new minimum term on EE."

Everything Everywhere was formed back in 2010 as a holding company following the merger of two existing cellular operators, Orange and T-Mobile. Slightly confusingly, the announcements today form a new customer-facing brand, EE, which will sell only high speed services: LTE cellular and fibre optic home connectivity. The existing T-Mobile and Orange brands will remain in place for the time being. Customers moving from 3G to 4G service will upgrade from the older brands onto the EE infrastructure.

Ofcom's recent decision to approve EE's existing 1800 MHz spectrum for LTE use has effectively handed EE a monopoly on 4G cellular networking within the UK for the time being; everyone else has to wait for a spectrum auction later this year before they can begin constructing networks for rollouts expected in 2013. This first-mover advantage could prove to be a huge competitive edge for EE, particularly if the iPhone 5 turns out to be, as widely expected, A) LTE capable and B) more popular then puppies and kittens combined. That would position EE as the de facto best network for the iPhone 5.

EE's competitors aren't at all happy about this situation; Vodafone said that "(Ofcom) has shown a careless disregard for the best interests of consumers, businesses and the wider economy through its refusal to properly regard the competitive distortion created by allowing one operator to run services before the ground has been laid for a fully competitive 4G market."

EE is accepting pre-release signups now via its website.