Mobile operator EE has announced that their 4G+ based Mobile Broadband network is being upgraded to support the latest Cat 9 LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) technology, which can theoretically support Internet speeds of up to 450Mbps by combining multiple spectrum bands.
The operator already uses the associated LTE-A based Carrier Aggregation technology in so-called “double speed” parts of their 4G network, although this is predominantly only available in selected urban areas (150 towns and cities across the UK) and works by combining two blocks of spectrum in the 2.6GHz and 1800MHz bands per device (e.g. Smartphone); this is called Category 6 (Cat 6).
The next upgrade phase to support Cat 9 devices will enable access to a third block of spectrum for high-speed 4G services at over 500 sites across the aforementioned 150 towns and cities by the end of 2017. Specifically, EE combines 20MHz of 1800MHz spectrum with 35MHz of 2.6GHz to create 55MHz of spectrum deployed for 4G services.
Lab tests show that Cat 9 LTE-A enabled mobile devices, such as the HTC M10, Samsung Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (assuming they can resolve the whole exploding batteries problem with the Note 7), can theoretically deliver speeds of up to 450Mbps (Megabits per second).
However your mileage may vary and EE’s own testing via an HTC M10 Smartphone at Wembley Stadium delivered the “real-world” result of 360Mbps (47.8Mbps upload), which is of course also without any of the usual congestion and shared capacity constraints that you might normally encounter.
Marc Allera, CEO of EE, said:
“There’s no point having the latest smartphones on a network that can’t support the top speeds the device is capable of. We’ve invested in our network to ensure that all of our customers get the most out of the amazing smartphones they have, and can keep up with the highest speeds that the latest devices offer.
With 4G+ now supporting Cat 9 devices, plus Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling, customers on EE will continue to get more from their new smartphone than on any other network in the UK.”
The news is good, although as ever it’s important to temper headline claims of 360-450Mbps+ with some reality. At present EE’s own stats claim that their basic 4G network (no Carrier Aggregation) delivers an average speed of 34.25Mbps, which rises up to around 60Mbps for their “double speed” network and then up to 90Mbps for the latest 4G+ (only in select areas of London and with a supporting device / Smartphone).
Those speeds are still very good, but of course network congestion, available capacity and your own location (i.e. variable signal quality) will vary during the day and thus so too will the performance of your connection. This means that in the real-world you’re highly unlikely to be downloading content at 300Mbps on a supporting Smartphone and even then EE’s data limits could become a hindrance.
Never the less EE has been testing this upgrade at Wembley Stadium for around a year and a half (here) and so understandably the initial roll-out, which is due to start this year, will focus on sites in central London (e.g. East London’s Tech City). Further sites will then be enabled in the UK’s busiest cities, including Birmingham and Manchester, with others being set to follow throughout 2017.
At present EE’s 4G network covers more than two thirds of the UK landmass (97% of the UK population) and they’re aiming to reach 95% geographic coverage by 2020. The operator is also switching on more than 3,500 sites with low frequency 800MHz spectrum for improved indoor coverage, which can support their new 4G Calling (VoLTE) service.