EE, the new name for the UK’s Orange-T-Mobile JV Everything Everywhere, switched on its 4G LTE network today as it unveiled a host of announcements designed to position it as the go-to brand for superfast digital services.
CEO Olaf Swantee said 4G LTE would be launched in 16 cities servicing 20 million people across the UK by the end of this year.
Ninety eight per cent of the population will be covered in 2014.
“Our plans to revolutionise the UK communications market with a faster network and an exciting new brand for the digital age are built on solid investment and a simple belief that customers deserve better,” said Swantee.
“It starts today, with the announcement of our new business, our new brand and a new digital infrastructure that our company, our customers and the country can be proud of.”
The news follows the announcement by UK regulator Ofcom last month that EE could use its existing 1800MHz spectrum to deliver 4G services.
EE has wasted no time in using the head start it has been given to its advantage.
One of the major drawbacks was thought to be a lack of 4G-ready devices, but EE announced seven would be available, including the Nokia 920 and 820, which were unveiled last week.
The iPhone 5, expected to launch tomorrow, could also be added to this list.
However, there are some challenges.
As well as becoming the new name for the company and its network, EE will become a brand in itself, joining the existing Orange and T-Mobile brands.
EE will offer a 4G LTE and fixed-line fibre broadband service, with Orange offering a “best-in-class” 3G service and T-Mobile seemingly being positioned as a value brand.
Orange and T-Mobile retail stores will disappear to be replaced by 700 new EE-branded equivalents.
Whether this confusing cocktail of brands and their offers will fly with customers will be interesting to see.
It also remains to be seen what Deutsche Telekom in particular does given T-Mobile’s apparent demotion.
“There will be some confusion about where the new brand sits alongside T-Mobile and Orange,” said Informa’s chief research officer Mark Newman.
“Over a period of time EE will come to be viewed as the service for heavy mobile Internet users while T-Mobile will be the brand for cost-conscious prepaid customers and Orange, the brand associated with offers such as Orange Wednesdays.”
Further, EE made no mention of price, which will be the ultimate acid test of whether the new brand will resonate with customers.
“For [4G] to be an attractive proposition for consumers it requires a good degree of network coverage, an attractive range of handsets and easy-to-understand pricing,” confirmed Ovums’s Matthew Howlett.
Then there is the question of what EE’s rivals will do.
In theory they will have to wait until the end of next year to launch their own services, as the UK’s official 4G spectrum auction has not even started yet.
However, Howlett said they might be tempted to jump the gun: “Two of the devices EE is launching with are capable of running LTE in the spectrum bands the other operators already have, so attention will likely turn to why they aren’t also planning to launch 4G before that auction."
The possibility of a legal challenge to Ofcom’s decision also remains.
In the meantime, EE has launched with the slogan “Now you can” aimed at customers; but it is a case of “Whether EE can” profit from its first mover advantage.
Given the cards it has been dealt, it would take a catastrophic blunder for it not to succeed.
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