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EE UK Deploys 4G Mobile Speed Boost with 450Mbps Cat 9 LTE Tech

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 (10:03 am) - Score 3,585
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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.

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Mark Jackson

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

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23 Responses
  1. Stephen

    I think we are reaching a point where for the first time, rural internet speeds are much quicker than urban speeds. Of course it will be down to the number of users per mast. But these are good times for people living outside the towns and cities on Britain.

    • So far as I can see there’s still a strong disparity of performance between urban and rural areas. The problem in rural areas is partly that masts will be spaced further apart and typically use lower frequency spectrum to reach more remote properties, which is good but also a hindrance to data speed. You also don’t tend to see many rural areas where LTE-A is fully activated.

      The article above is a good example because the latest boost is only being talked about for use in dense urban, not rural, locations.

    • JR

      Or where rural areas for the continued period of since time immemorial receive no coverage, but every phone company offers data that says you can receive signal of good strength.

      For reference I live 4 miles from a major town, in south east.

    • Max

      Mark,

      Generally true – but i’m on Three and got an insane result in rural derbyshire last month ! Admittedly, top of a hill with line of site to the mast about 3 to 500 meters away.

      http://www.speedtest.net/my-result/a/2132243380

    • Naturally there will always be optimal exceptions 🙂 .

    • Stephen

      Yes I agree, masts in rural locations are certainly few and far between. There are a lot of areas with no overlap at all. Also I don’t think we will see LTE-A out in the sticks, I think this will be for the big cities only. But if you are lucky enough to live near a rural mast then the speeds can be very very fast. I can get download speeds upto 122MB/s with EE around Aberdeenshire.:-)

    • Yan

      Indeed while it’s true that 450Mbps LTE-A is unlikely to hit rural areas anytime soon, it’s also true that rural areas are more likely to see high speeds on the existing network (~150Mbps max) simply due to fewer users (and fewer overlapping masts causing interference).

      In a medium sized city (e.g. Aberdeen to Edinburgh sized) you’ll have an average of 1000-3000 people on each single mast, and with the overlap in cities, it’s not impossible to have 50,000 people within interference range. Out in the sticks, you might not even find that many users in an entire county. And since each 4G mast always has the same minimum capacity (and 1Gbps backhaul) it’s fairly obvious you’ll get a much larger share of lightly loaded masts in rural areas.

  2. Colin Jones

    EE 50GB Data plan £44 per month and 12 month contract. The speeds are getting better yes, but the data amount versus the cost is a long way off.

    • Phil Coates

      Exactly. Got rid of Satellite because with an outdoor 4G aerial I can get about 10Mbps (on a good day). Topped up to the tune of £100 this month as both kids back from University.

    • Yan

      Considering the average user uses closer to 5GB a month and the average bill is £37 a month, that’s a pretty decent deal. Just 2 years ago £50 a month got you 1GB.

    • Wow what operator were you using that charged £50 for only 1GB :)? Even 8 years ago I can recall having a 1GB tariff that cost about £10 or £15 on Vodafone and that one didn’t expire for about 36 months hehe.

  3. Gigabit

    The phone is the HTC 10. The M10 does not exist.

  4. How would the ping times be compared to fixed fttc & fttp lines?

  5. Dumb argument

    “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.”

    Am i reading this wrong or is that a mistake/typo?

    • Landmass / geographic coverage is not the same as population coverage. Population coverage is higher because most people live in dense urban areas (cities and towns).

    • Dumb argument

      “Landmass / geographic coverage is not the same as population coverage. ”

      Oh doh right think i got it are you talking about 3 things?

      It was the bit in brackets that confused me IE
      “…more than two thirds of the UK landmass (97% of the UK population)”

      I thought you were equating those 2 things to be one. Which as you point landmass and population are not the same thing.

  6. Paul

    still lags behind in rural areas im get 7mb download on ee 4g

  7. TWKND

    And yet 3 are the only network who have the guts to offer an unlimited package. Why doesn’t anyone else? Even if it was twice the price of 3’s offering and had restrictions/traffic management on it.

    This is ignoring “Always On” data which is normally 6GB unthrottled and then 128Kbps for the rest of the month.

    • Bobq8967

      Depends where you are

      I was on an unlimited three then for Months massive congestion I.E – 1-3mbps all the time.

      Switched to bt mobile now always enjoy 30+ speeds.

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