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EE UK to Boost 4G Speeds by Refarming 10MHz of 1800MHz Spectrum from 2G

Monday, September 11th, 2017 (11:38 am) - Score 2,816

Mobile operator EE (BT) has today announced that they intend to further boost the top speeds and reliability of their “superfast4G based mobile data network by converting (“refarming“) another 10MHz of radio spectrum in the 1800MHz band from older 2G services.

At present EE’s fastest 4G (LTE) based mobile sites are equipped with 20MHz of the 1800MHz spectrum band, as well as 35MHz of the 2.6GHz band (note: some of the 1800MHz band is also be used for older 3G and 2G services). However these days fewer devices require 2G connectivity and so the operator is shifting more of the spectrum in order to help 4G based Mobile Broadband performance.

As a result of that, more than 600 sites across cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff, will be upgraded with the latest 4G spectrum over the next 6 months. The sites will power the next wave of mobile devices to hit the UK market, equipped with “Cat 12” and “Cat 16” modems.

The operator already claims to have the “largest 4G+ footprint for both Cat 6 and Cat 9 modems.” In theory the best Cat 6 devices (i.e. most 4G Smartphones built over the past few years) should be able to deliver Mobile Broadband speeds of up to 300Mbps, while Cat 9 (e.g. Samsung Galaxy S6 onwards) will do up to 450Mbps. By comparison Cat 16 reflects the very latest devices and pushes close to Gigabit territory (here).

Marc Allera, EE CEO, said:

“We keep investing in our network, and using our technology leadership to make sure customers are getting the most out of the latest smartphones. Customers need to be on 4G, getting the best out of their new devices with the highest quality phone calls and the fastest mobile data speeds. We’re converting 2G into 4G, because that’s what our customers need. So if you are choosing a new smartphone, the message is simple: there’s only one UK network that offers the best smartphone experience.”

The operator claims that it’s 4G network now covers 85% of the United Kingdom’s landmass (c.99% population coverage) and the upgrade should mean that those with the latest Smartphones benefit by “doubling the data upload speeds” from the current maximum of 50Mbps and up to 100Mbps via more than 900 sites across the United Kingdom.

In reality such capacity needs to be shared between many users and the signal quality does vary, which means that most people will probably experience considerably slower performance than the theoretical claims. However some people may be using the service at just the right time and in just the right location to benefit from ultrafast style performance.

It’s worth remembering that different parts of EE’s network are at different stages of development and performance isn’t all about spectrum. The operator has also introduced other upgrades, such as 4×4 MIMO and 256QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) technology, both of which can help to improve speeds.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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18 Responses
  1. Mike says:

    Hopefully these upgrades will encourage Three to invest in LTE-A as well or increase usage limits to compensate.

    1. Darren says:

      It’s an issue of spectrum, that three don’t want to pay much for. Instead of outbidding EE in the next auction, they’ve asked for priority in the next auction.

    2. Simon says:

      is 100GB or AYCE not enough already?

    3. Mike says:


      With that sort of mindset we’d still be living in caves.

    4. mike says:

      How can you increase usage limits beyond AYCE? How is that not enough?

  2. Dave says:

    Three should just sell up. Their network coverage and support are so far behind the others that they have no chance in catching up.

    If only OFCOM had let Three buy O2 things would be better for Three now.

    1. Mike says:


    2. Vince says:

      Well that’s just nonsense. 3’s coverage for me is excellent – they might not always have the fastest raw speed, but I get 3G or 4G from them in places nobody else bothers to provide coverage, including some fairly rural areas and moorland spaces.

      As a bonus, since they have no legacy 2G network to fall back on (and I haven’t seen any 2G roaming in years so assume that’s long since binned) it’s more likely to hold on and give you 1 bar of 3G in weak areas (which is totally usable) than flipping down to 2G like the others do leaving you with sod all useful data.

    3. mike says:

      I switched from Three to EE and am thinking of going back.

      Three gave me much better all-round performance. Speeds on their 3G network are around 20Mbps, vs EE’s 1Mbps or so.

      EE definitely has better 4G coverage and faster speeds (I got 60Mbps on Three and get up to 120Mbps on EE).

      However, the times I’m on 3G on EE are so slow and frustrating. Sometimes I even end up on EDGE which is too slow to even use. 20Mbps vs 1Mbps makes a lot more difference for web browsing, emaling, and Spotify than 60Mbps vs 120Mbps.

    4. Mike says:

      I’ve acheived just over 100Mbps quite close to the mast with line of sight (~500m) with Three.

    5. Dave says:

      Not rubbish.

      I lived in a city centre flat for a few years, never got Three indoors. Switched to O2 because they have indoor coverage.

      I’m now back living in a rural location where, you guessed it, Three have no coverage so I’m pleased to still be on O2.

      I have my phone set to 3G only because to be fair O2’s 4G isn’t worth bothering with, it’s not much faster than their 3G.

      I’ll probably get a dual SIM phone next time and use EE for data (when available and outside) and continue to use O2 for voice and indoors data (if there’s no wifi).

    6. Mike says:

      Indoor coverage is generally pretty terrible with all them I find, better off using WiFi and the correponding app to make calls/texts over WiFi, in my case it’s the Three InTouch app.

  3. MikeW says:

    Are EE planning to use this spectrum only for the 4G+ service? ie the most expensive one…

    There’s some good info on this page, regarding EE’s use of spectrum for their 3 different service levels:

    This reckons that 2 x 10MHz gives typical speeds of 15Mbps:

    1. Peter Clarke says:

      2x10MHz of spectrum with 2x2MIMO and 64QAM provides up to about 75mbps.
      2x10MHz spectrum with 4x4MIMO and 64QAM provides up to 150mbps.
      2x10MHz spectrum with 4x4MIMO and 256QAM provides up to 200mbps.

      These aren’t a pipe dream, I have received over 70mbps from 2x10MHz of spectrum with 2x2MIMO and 64QAM. Others have neigh on h it the limits for the 256QAM and 4×4 MIMO too.

    2. Peter Clarke says:

      Everyone will have access to this spectrum, whether you’re Pay as You Go or a Max Plan user. Plenty of friends on PAYG have used it.

    3. MikeW says:

      You used the magic words “up to”.

      Those speeds are indeed possible. But they also depend on how much others are using the same cell/sector, and how far away from the transceiver you are. The typical speeds are more, well, typical.

      How can plenty of friends on PAYG have used this spectrum when it has only just been announced as an intention?

      The impression I got was that most EE devices were already using 2x20MHz in the 1800 band, so could only access another 2x10MHz via LTE-A carrier aggregation.

  4. TWKND says:

    Next up band 1/2100MHz from 3G? Three have started that in some areas.

  5. John melton says:

    We are on 0.75 and 0.65 speed the telephone system dips so badly that a 1/4,of the conversation has asked to be repeated what has Bt EE DONE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

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