While mobile operators in the US continue to carpet the nation with 4G LTE coverage, most of us on the other side of the Atlantic can only watch in envy. Few parts of Europe have been touched by 4G so far, and as with many of its neighbours, the availability of 4G services in the United Kingdom has so far failed to extend beyond a few limited trials.
But good things come to those who wait – and our British readers now won’t have too long to wait before they can get their fix of 4G goodness. Everything Everywhere – the joint venture company co-owned by France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, which owns the Orange UK and T-Mobile UK networks – has confirmed that it plans to launch 4G to paying customers later this year.
Everything Everywhere is already running an LTE trial which in Cornwall, which will come to a close in July; the trial is operating on the 800MHz band, which is apparently well suited to the rural county. A second trial will begin in Bristol in a few weeks, on the 1800MHz band, which should perform more capably in the busier urban and suburban environment of that trial.
According to The Guardian, Everything Everywhere has submitted a special application to the UK's telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, requesting that it be allowed to convert some of its spare existing 3G 1800MHz spectrum to 4G, so that it can launch commercial services ahead of the full 4G spectrum auction next year. The operator's plans to launch are therefore subject to regulatory approval, which Everything Everywhere hopes will arrive by May. The company's CEO, Olaf Swantee, is enthusiastic about the plans: “Everything Everywhere’s vision is to launch 4G for Britain as soon as possible, and the rollout of 3.5G HSPA+ and our 4G trials across Britain are major steps towards delivering on that promise”.
Indeed, Everything Everywhere’s ‘Smart Signal Share’ programme, which enables T-Mobile UK and Orange UK users to roam between the two networks, has been progressing nicely. Originally launched for 2G voice roaming only, the network sharing initiative now covers all the bases up to 3.5G HSPA+, with 60% of users covered across the two brands. From mid-March, the final phase of the programme will begin, with the aim of all smartphones and dongles seamlessly switching between the strongest signal from either network.
Clearly, it will be sometime before the UK has anything close to full nationwide 4G LTE coverage – networks don’t build themselves overnight, you know – but it’s great to get some official confirmation that the first 4G offerings will finally launch in Britain this year.