How EE is doubling its LTE speeds

EE doubles LTE network speeds in ten cities with 20MHz contiguous spectrum.

EE announced this morning that it will double LTE speeds in ten UK cities this summer by refarming 2G spectrum to give its LTE network 20MHz contiguous spectrum at 1800MHz.

The operator said that it would be able to provide theoretical peak rates of 130Mbps and average speeds of 20Mbps as a result of refarming spectrum currently used to support 2G spectrum.

Tom Bennett, Director of Network Services at EE, told The Mobile Network that the operator is clearing 5MHz on either side of the existing 10MHz block it is using for LTE. That will give it a possible 20MHz of contiguous spectrum for 4G. That is the widest bandwidth achievable for LTE without deploying Carrier Aggregration as.

Bennett said that EE can do this because it is integrating its 2G and 4G network into the same physical hardware, “the same tin”, as part of its network integration. That means that it can support its existing 2G customer base more efficiently than it could when those customers were being served from two separate, rather than one integrated, sites, Bennett said.

EE is using SingleRAN hardware from Huawei for 2G and 4G, and NSN equipment for its 3G and HSPA network. All its devices since launch have been at least Category 3 devices, meaning they can take advantage of the 20MHz spectrum band without modification.

Competitive positioning, spectrum bragging
EE is able to do this because of the amount of spectrum it holds at 1800MHz. Even after divesting 15MHz to 3UK it has 45MHz available at that band. It also gained good holdings at 1800 and a lesser block at 800MHz in the recent spectrum auction. EE’s holdings are 2x5MHz 800MHz; 2×45 1800MHz; 2×20 2.1GHz; 2×35 2.6GHz FDD.

Although some at EE’s press event questioned whether UK consumers are in fact calling for faster LTE, instead of larger data allowances or cheaper tariffs, CEO Olaf Swantee spent some time outlining the benefits to the economy of fast mobile broadband, and the leading position of EE as a network operator and technology innovator.

What we are seeing is EE trying to position itself as the network leader in the UK. Olaf Swantee told the press conference that “the network is at the centre of everything we do, and pointedly added that with EE now holding 36% of all UK spectrum, “there are other players that do not have the spectrum capacity to deliver this capability today nor in the future.”

Vodafone is the closest challenger to EE in terms of the spread and depth of its spectrum holdings, with 28%. O2 has 15%, 3UK 12%.

Mansoor Hanif, Director of Network Consolidation and LTE at Everything Everywhere, said, “If you want the best, come to the best network.” Bennett told TMN that his networks team were “as happy as we could possibly be” with the results of the spectrum auction.

The operator also said that because of the investments it had made in its transmission (backhaul) network, it is able to support increased speeds across the network. Again, it implicitly questioned whether its competitors would be able to match this backhaul investment.

Bennett told TMN that his networks team were “as happy as we could possibly be” with the results of the spectrum auction.

Future rollouts: LTE-A and VoLTE

The operator also said it would be trialling Inter Band Carrier Aggregation before the end of 2013 – likely to be of its Band 3 (1800MHz) and Band 7 (2.6GHz) spectrum. It wants to achieve top rates of 300Mbps using carrier aggregation technologies.

Once more, EE feels it has an edge here. With holdings at 1800 and 2.6GHZ it feels that it will be in a position to benefit from widespread device manufacturer support for the most common Carrier Aggregation bandss.

Bennett said that the operator was not yet revealing plans for the 2x5MHz it has at 800MHz.

There was also a public commitment to launch VoLTE support. The carrier currently uses CSFB for voice support for LTE users.

Another operator that has been trialling 20MHz contiguous spectrum at 1800MHz is Telstra. Telstra has been trialling Category 4 devices, a dongle and a phone, ahead of launching the devices later this year. CAT 4 devices are rated as capable of 150Mbps peak device downlink speeds. This compares with CAT3 devices which are rated at 100Mbps peak device downlink speeds. It has said that in live field trials in Perth and Esperance in20MHz of contiguous spectrum it has seen device speeds of over 90Mbps.