Oct.30 - Mobile operator EE has launched its 4G network in 11 UK cities, giving it a head start on disgruntled rivals to take British consumers into the superfast broadband era. Reuters Technology Correspondent Matt Cowan reports.
The 4G era in Britain is finally underway, a little later than in other markets and with some notable limitations. Only the newly rebranded mobile operator EE is currently offering 4G service, which it says will only cover a third of the population. Marc Allera is the chief sales officer. SOUNDBITE: Marc Allera, Chief Sales Officer, EE saying (English): "We're launching in 11 cities today across the UK and by Christmas we will be available in 16 cities and we expect coverage of about 20 million of the population by Christmas." EE is a joint venture between France Telecom's Orange and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile and this launch comes just weeks after British regulator Ofcom gave it the go ahead to reuse existing spectrum for 4G. Rivals Vodafone, O2 need to obtain new spectrum in an auction early next year. With 4G services already up and running in over 40 countries, this launch also demonstrates how times have changed says Stuart Miles, founder of the technology blog Pocket-lint. SOUNDBITE: Stuart Miles, Pocket-lint founder saying (English) "Yeah, the UK is very much behind in this. We've sort of been leap-frogged by the U.S. The U.S. never really got text messaging for example and we had that for a long time. Now, all of the sudden we are playing catch up. That's not necessarily a bad thing because the journey has started." SOUNDBITE: Matt Cowan, Reuters Technology Correspondent saying (English) "So we're just going to do a little speed test. This is my iPhone 5 which is on a 3G network and this is the EE iPhone 5 which of course is 4G. We're searching Vimeo at exactly the same time. Go. Now that's much quicker (4G) That one (3G) is still searching and look at that. (Video starts playing) Amazing. You can see there's a big difference." 4G is five times faster than 3G, but EE has priced it at 10-20 percent higher than equivalent 3G tariffs, with an entry level of 36 pounds a month for 500MB of data. SOUNDBITE: Stuart Miles, Pocket-lint founder saying (English) "Based on the speeds and excitement you can have, you're going to get though that very quickly but you have to look at the fact that it's an early adopter product at the moment. If I looked at the price of DVDs when they launched in 1997, they were 900 pounds in the UK for a player. Now I can get one for a tenner down the road." While there were a number of 4G customers at this Oxford street EE store, there were no line ups out the door. Allera says hundreds of thousands of customers registered their interest on the EE website.