SUPER-FAST mobile internet will provide a “big boost” to the economy, claimed operator EE ahead of the launch of Britain’s first 4G network today.
Leeds and Sheffield are among 11 cities where the operator is launching the fourth-generation mobile network, which provides data speeds five times faster than 3G.
Other cities, including Hull, will launch by Christmas and the operator plans to cover 98 per cent of the UK population with 4G by the end of 2014, including rural communities underserved by fixed-line broadband.
It will allow rapid internet searches, downloads, video streaming and help cater for the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablet computers – without the need for a fixed line.
“A super-fast network that enables businesses to do things they could not do before is going to be a big boost for the economy,” said EE’s vice president of business-to-business, Martin Stiven.
“It enables innovation, it helps drive productivity.
“We’ve become a very media-rich, high-speed world. What 4G provides is the final piece of the jigsaw to enable that world to come to life.”
He cited research by Capital Economics which forecasts a 4G network will add 0.5 per cent annually to Britain’s economy after a decade – worth £7.5bn per year.
“It’s a clear boost for the economy and these big cities are at the forefront of that,” he said. “4G is having a transformational effect on businesses across the world.”
Mr Stiven defended the operator’s decision not to offer a contract with unlimited data use, but instead offer capped plans.
“We want to make sure that people see the value in data,” he said. “High-speed data is a valuable asset. The industry has probably given away a bit too much too soon.”
A long-anticipated successor to Britain’s over-stretched 3G network, 4G will be in 16 cities by the end of the year, covering a potential 20m people.
EE was able to leapfrog rivals to launch ahead of the long-delayed auction of 4G spectrum, infuriating Vodafone, 3 and O2 which must wait for the auction later this year. Regulator Ofcom permitted EE to re-use some of its existing 2G and 3G spectrum – airwaves that carry mobile signals – to offer 4G services.
EE, previously Everything Everywhere, also owns the Orange and T-Mobile networks, although customers of these must sign up to new EE contracts to access the super-fast network.
The group has been upgrading backhaul and mobile phone base stations ahead of the launch, part of a £1.5bn investment in its network over the next three years. The firm said it has invested almost £17m in its network across Leeds and another £12m in Sheffield.
“Media companies are a great example of where high speeds on the move are going to reap enormous benefits,” said Mr Stiven. “They are streaming films and downloading very significant files.
“The construction industry, retail pop-up shops and small businesses can have instant access to connections – they can deploy a fixed line as soon as they want rather than waiting for a fixed line.
“We’ve got the biggest backhaul roll-out in the UK.”
Contracts for consumers range from £36 per month with 500MB of data for a ‘light user’, up to £56 with 8GB for a ‘heavier data user’. Business contracts start at £30 a month and offer packages including up to 128GB of data.
“Ninety five per cent of our customers use their data responsibly,” said Mr Stiven. “There’s a small number of people who go over the sensible limits.
“What they could do is mean that people who are using it (sensibly) get disadvantaged.
“It’s a brand new network with huge backhaul and I don’t think we’ve got any fears about the network getting congested for many years to come.”
Working on the move
MORE than three-quarters of American firms which use 4G have seen a boost in innovation, claimed mobile operator EE.
The group surveyed 256 firms which use 4G and said 86 per cent get more work done on the move because of 4G. Forty per cent said sales teams can now complete deals in the field. Almost half said 4G has saved their firm money, through hot-desking, cutting wasted time and reducing print costs.
EE said its survey of 89 small to large firms in Leeds and Sheffield found 77 per cent plan to roll out 4G in the next year – although did not provide more detail on its sample.