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EE Highlights New Approach to Help Improve UK 4G Mobile Coverage

Friday, December 1st, 2017 (10:52 am) - Score 6,469

Mobile operator EE has today announced the introduction of their new ‘Time on 4G‘ measure of customer network experience, which should help them to identify and upgrade parts of the United Kingdom where their coverage needs to improve.

Traditionally Mobile Network Operators’ (MNO) have preferred to measure their network reach by looking at population coverage, which produces big percentages (it’s easy enough for operators to claim 98%+ coverage of a population) but this can also be quite misleading because most people live in urban areas.

Last year EE decided to tackle this by introducing the new “Clear on Coverage” campaign, which adopted the much more reflective measure of geographic coverage (here). At present EE’s geographic (landmass) 4G network coverage of the UK is around 86% and they aim to reach 95% by the end of December 2020. Rival operators trail behind this.

Fast forward one year and EE has decided to build on their campaign by adopting an additional measure called Time on 4G. As you might expect from the name, this is a measure that shows the percentage of time a customer is connected to 4G. For example, the average ‘Time on 4G’ for an EE customer in an urban area, with 4G Calling enabled, is 96%. In some rural areas, that figure is 79%, falling to 70% for a customer that isn’t using 4G Calling.

Rail commuters were also found to have a lower than average ‘Time on 4G’ (hardly a surprise due to all the notspots along routes) and EE explained that this was part of the reason why they intend to invest “tens of millions of pounds on specific rail coverage upgrades in 2018 alone,” although other operators are also considering similar investments (e.g. on the TfL underground).

Overall EE said this approach “informs and validates predictive measures such as geographic coverage percentage.”

Marc Allera, EE CEO, said:

“Our industry has to get better at giving customers the information they need to make an informed choice about the mobile network that best suits their needs.

I banned misleading population coverage measurements at EE a year ago, and we’ve seen real change since then. The fundamentally misleading claim of ‘99% coverage’ is very hard to find on mobile operators’ websites today.

We are introducing new measurements today that will give us a more accurate view of our customers’ network experience than ever before. And we’re working with Ofcom to improve the quality of information that’s available to customers, as we share their ambition to improve transparency around network performance.”

In fairness, delivering strong geographic coverage is certainly a lot easier to do when you also happen to own over 40% of the available mobile spectrum and had a big head-start on the deployment of 4G services. EE were able to harness 1800MHz for 4G, while rivals O2, Three UK and Vodafone waited for the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum release.

Meanwhile EE said they were also looking for the Government to move quickly on the pledges it made in the Autumn Budget to improve rail coverage, such as by incentivising mobile operators, train operating companies and rail land owners to work together and remove barriers to installing essential trackside sites.

NOTE: EE said that the data for their ‘Time on 4G’ measures is collected at an anonymised customer level.

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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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15 Responses
  1. Lightspeed2398 says:

    Interesting to see how ISPReview have effectively been duped by EE’s ridiculous press release. The time on LTE metric is one that has been used by all networks for a significant amount of time and has been reported on already through testing companies such as OpenSignal. It’s highly dependent on network configuration and doesn’t reflect the quality of the signal received. If my phone says it is on 4G at -130dBm but it’s unusable and that’s preventing me from using a 3G femto cell for example then that’s not a good network configuration. Vodafone and o2 it is true do have a dire LTE IRAT strategy which means their time on LTE is lower than it should be but that can be fixed in software very easily when they are bothered (I won’t hold my breath though) The true reason that EE are shifting to this metric is that they are worried that that they’ll be overtaken for indoor 4G population coverage (one of the best metrics that EE ignore because their indoor coverage is poor) and geographic coverage (the one they’ve shouted about for the last year) by the other networks. ISPReview also state that EE’s spectrum holdings allow it to have this larger geographic coverage which quite frankly is poppycock. 1800MHz is pretty useless for delivering geographic coverage on a widespread basis which is why most of the boost that EE has seen in the last year and a bit has been from 800MHz, you can even see that because when EE announced they were launching 800MHz they did it by espousing how much extra geographic coverage it gave them!

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      A few points.

      * Getting a third party company like OpenSignal to collect crowd-sourced data from a relatively small sample for some operators is not quite the same thing as collecting it directly from tens of millions of users on your [the operator’s] own network.

      * Customers can’t yet see their individual ‘Time on 4G’ yet, but I understand that will come next year as EE evolve the approach. I’ve not seen other network operators providing that data directly from their network to users, but we’ll see what EE come up with before passing judgement. I haven’t written this into the article yet as I’m still waiting for EE to clarify what sort of data will be made available to subscribers. Will update when I know more.

      * “ISPReview also state that EE’s spectrum holdings allow it to have this larger geographic coverage which quite frankly is poppycock.

      Not quite. That is one part of a larger paragraph, where you as the reader are supposed to combine the fact that they hold more spectrum and had an early start on 4G. The two aspects aren’t supposed to be separated, hence why they’re in the same para. I also said it makes it “a lot easier,” which means these are not the only factors to consider.

    2. Lightspeed2398 says:

      Firstly I never said that there was an exact equivalency between Opensignal and the operators’ metrics however EE themselves have quoted Opensignal’s time on LTE before so I feel that they have legitimised it. That being said I still feel that ISPReview have been duped because operators all over the world and in the UK have been collecting information about the network already including time on LTE.

      The individual time on LTE approach is a bizarre one for EE to take but it’s still frankly not relevant. I mean firstly there is the comment as to why users should care but you’ve still not addressed the point that time on LTE above all else is not reflective of a good user experience. Poor analysis from ISPReview

      I do acknowledge the fact that they had an early start on 4G however that is broadly not relevant to geographic coverage, because they had an early start with 1800MHz which as I said is not useful for geographic coverage, the only way to deliver large amounts of geographic coverage is with low band spectrum, of which they have half the amount at 800Mhz of Vodafone and o2. I reject the fact that they’re together means anything at all because the nature of the headstart and the large amounts of spectrum they own are not relevant to their ability to deliver geographic coverage.

    3. Mark Jackson says:

      Difficult to analyse anything in detail before EE have actually produced the data and proven exactly how they will act upon it in a meaningful way.. or not. I’d suggest waiting to pass judgement until there’s some more meat on the bone to work with.

    4. Alex Bristol says:

      You have raised some interesting points Lightspeed2398, and right to point out about indoor coverage but a bit unfair saying ISPReview has been duped… Lets not focus on that last bit but instead for the benefit of everyone here using your good technical knowledge what do you think is the best way to measure mobile coverage, indoor and outdoor?

  2. AndyC says:

    How about they fix this dam bug that means some phone’s cant receive calls when connected to 4G. no point making the network bigger if people have problems using it.

  3. Simon says:

    EE changing how they measure a statistic seems a bit like how politicians twist statistics and how they are measured to suit them and present a better/false picture when the original figure looks bad.

    Maybe EE could show each user their “Time on 4G” (not sure why it has to be anonymised other than to have no way to prove it’s accurate!) and text the customer each week with their personal figure. I’m pretty sure mine would be shockingly low. Maybe they could do the same with 3G, and even “time with any EE signal at all”, and also show the figure for all users of that cell/mast as the average. That would then soon show how good/bad areas are on EE… note: I realise the issue of anonymisation/data aggregation for privacy reasons.

    So with all this in mind, what % of “time on 4G” are EE aiming for? Does (or will) Ofcom agree that the figure is how EE, and other networks, should be measured? And if a user falls below it what will they get in return?

    EE proudly go on and on about 4G calling, Wifi calling and other services, but none of this is available on Pay as you Go packages due to some excuse on their billing system not being able to handle it… but if I can’t get anywhere near reasonable service on PAYG with EE then there is zero chance I’m going to sign up to a contract with them, yet alone spend even more per month. Fix the service and that may well change!

    1. ChrisP says:

      PAYG is more expensive than a contract.

  4. Phil says:

    That’s not “new”. I had this issue with T-Mobile (on which EE is based) back in 2010 while on 3G phones. Here’s how that went down:

    1 – “There’s no evidence of issues in your area, please provide evidence so we can narrow down”.
    2 – I provide examples of 10 inbound calls, all of which went to voicemail while my phone is switched on, charged, and connected to wifi. I provide exact time, date, postcode of the calls, number of caller. All of which i have because i had a few people stand in the same room as me and do this.
    3 – I give this all to T-Mobile. They come back and say there’s nothing wrong.
    4 – I left T-Mobile to go to Orange and the problem immediately went away.
    5 – T-Mobile merged with Orange at the network level and the problem returned.
    6 – I left Orange to go to a non-EE network and the problem never came back since.

  5. apolloa says:

    Well….there coverage checker claims I get excellent outdoor 4G coverage and good indoor….

    I don’t get any, including when I walk the dog, I get a decent 3G signal but their ban on incorrect coverage is not working.

    1. apolloa says:

      I should add I used to get a 4G signal on EE the same as I do with Tesco mobile now… until they turned some transmitters off after the BT merger….

      So I’ll pay peanuts for better coverage. Maybe I’ll check them out again but their SIM only pricing is horrendously expensive.

  6. gerarda says:

    Now that EE is part of BT I think they could easily measure the coverage by tracking the number of times Openreach engineers have to use the customer’s mobile phone because they can’t get an EE signal.

  7. Eileen Bowen says:

    I’m continually losing Internet connection pathetic once my contract is up will be leaving EE it went again todayxx saying connected but can’t get on line

  8. Wesley says:

    EE is terrible and when you complain to them that you have no signal and get loads of dropped calls, they pretend to know when you had them, but they don’t know. Then they tell you to re-choose the network in your settings or restart your phone to get a better signal.

    You tell them it doesn’t help and they say make a log of every problem you have and don’t really care and also deny that the dropped calls you had ever happened. Then I didn’t bother telling then about the problems any more, because it is pointless.

    They are really not interested and wouldn’t ever think of sending someone to the area to test their poor signal in order to make improvements. This is in the city centre of Edinburgh, so really no excuses.

    Needless to say, I will leave them when my contract is up in 6 months time. Currently having to use the battery hungry wifi calling at home. Testing free sims from Vodafone and O2, already I have 3/4 signal bars compared to EE’s 0/4.

    It is one thing having a 4g signal, a totally different thing is whether that actually has a decent signal for a call or even slow 5mbps internet.

  9. Colin Grice says:

    Most villages in the North York Moors still have no coverage at all, they keep quiet about that while showboating 4G where there is already more than adequate 3G.
    Meanwhile we can’t even send a text or dial 999

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