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EE Targets 95 Percent 4G Landmass Cover and Brings Support Back to UK

Monday, Apr 25th, 2016 (8:08 am) - Score 1,354

Mobile operator EE appears to have been influenced by new parent BT and plans to improve customer support by bringing it back to the United Kingdom and hiring 600 new staff. On top of that they’ll increase their 4G landmass network coverage from 60% of the UK to 95% (99.8% population coverage).

The “onshoring” move to answer 100% of service calls in the UK and Ireland (using Ireland is still a sort of outsourcing) is perhaps unsurprising given that EE’s parent (BT) last year pledged to answer “more than” 80% of its customers’ calls in the United Kingdom by the end of 2016 (here); EE’s target is to achieve their goal by the same date.

On top of that the move to create 600 new roles across the UK and Ireland is also being seen as part of a wider effort to improve the operator’s sometimes flaky customer support scores (example). The first 100 roles will be created in Merthyr, North Tyneside, Plymouth and Ireland by the end of June 2016. EE may have a decent mobile network, but good support is the missing ingredient.

Indeed EE claims that they’ve already boosted customer satisfaction and cut complaints by 50% through an onshoring programme that’s seen more than 1,400 jobs created in the UK and Ireland since 2014. We too have seen complaint volumes fall, albeit only fairly recently and that followed a peak, but it’s still too soon to confirm if this trend will continue.

Marc Allera, EE’s CEO, said:

“We’re bringing 100% of our EE customer service calls back to the UK and Ireland. We’ve already seen a major boost in customer satisfaction by creating 1,400 new service jobs here since 2014. Now we’re creating 600 additional jobs to handle all EE customer service calls in the UK and Ireland by the end of this year, providing the best possible experience for our customers.”

However the really big news, so far as we’re concerned, is EE’s commitment to “eradicate notspots” by extending the landmass (geographic) coverage of their superfast 4G (LTE / LTE Advanced) mobile network from 60% of United Kingdom today to 95% by 2020.

In addition, this commitment to landmass coverage will also help to boost their current 4G population coverage from 95% today to 99.8% by 2020. Apparently all of this will require EE to build more than 750 new sites, which is a notoriously slow, difficult and very expensive process.

EE further states that the new sites will only be possible with “policy reform“, which is a way of telling the Government and regulators to get on with the business of updating the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) in order to make it both easier and cheaper to deploy new infrastructure. But private rural land owners may have a different opinion (here). EE also talks about encouraging “financial incentives to invest,” which could be a reference to the hike in spectrum licence fees (example).

Marc Allera, EE’s CEO, said:

“For the average smartphone user, not-spots aren’t tolerated and 2G doesn’t deliver what they need. Customers want 4G speeds everywhere they go, and mobile operators are too used to saying ‘no’ to new coverage. Today, I’m saying ‘yes’, with an ambition to go further than any operator has ever gone, and with the ultimate aim of covering the whole UK with 4G.”

Admittedly some aspects of EE’s new coverage commitment aren’t that much of a surprise, not least because all of the major Mobile Network Operators (EE, Vodafone, Three UK and O2) have already agreed to a £5bn investment that will deliver basic mobile (voice and text) landmass coverage of 90% (85% for mobile broadband / data) by 2017 (here).

On top of that they’re also all working towards a 4G population coverage target of 98% by the end of 2017, although EE are expected to achieve that by the end of 2016 due to their earlier head start on 4G deployments.

However those last little bits of coverage, which often include a lot of wide open rural areas and small sparse communities, are always the most economically and technically challenging to serve. The costs for reaching the last bits can be aggressively disproportionate and so it’s very good indeed to see EE making such a strong commitment.

Another important aspect to note is that at present 4G remains a data (mobile broadband) centric network, although EE are now rolling out Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE or “4G Calling“), which does exactly what it says on the tin. 4G Calling is already live in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds and Newcastle, and will be switched on across the rest of the network by July 2017.

One other thing that today’s announcement does is to throw down the gauntlet to their rivals, which may or may not feel encouraged to keep up with EE. However we suspect that most will want to see the outcome of the Government’s ECC revisions before committing to further expansion and they’ll also have to remain mindful about spending big on 4G, particularly when 5G is slowly appearing on the horizon.

Side Note: EE has also today announced the start of their 4G roll-out on the remote Shetland Islands in Scotland (it’s just gone live in Lerwick and EE expects complete coverage across all of the islands by summer 2017) and the five inhabited Isles of Scilly that reside off the South West coast of England (apparently the coverage should already reach almost everybody).

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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