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EE will sell as many tablets, dongles and smart devices as it does phones by 2017

The UK's first 4G network sees Web-connected devices becoming as common as phones, while also announcing a £1.5 billion investment in bringing a signal to rural areas.

EE offers double speed 4G in London, and plans to bring that speed bump to the rest of the country in the next few years. Tom Dymond/REX

The UK's biggest mobile phone network says it expects to sell as many Web-connected devices as it does smartphones in the next two years. Announcing a £1.5 billion investment in its network over the next three years, EE also says double-speed 4G and 4G voice calls will reach most of the population by 2017.

EE was the first network to launch 4G LTE in the UK back in 2012. Although the other major networks have now launched their own rival 4G services, EE has had the longest headstart and so offers the widest coverage. The company, which is being bought by BT in a £12.5 billion deal, today laid out its plans for the next couple of years.

The short version is that EE wants to bring faster speeds to more people. The demand is partly driven by the explosion in Web-connected devices: everything from tablets and laptops to dongles and smart home devices -- basically, anything that talks to the Web that isn't a phone. That includes EE's own EE TV set-top box and Buzzard dongle for your car.

In London, EE has established even faster double-speed 4G, and plans to offer that 60Mbps maximum speed across the country. That will be followed by 4G+ in 20 towns and cities, giving lucky punters a headspinning 150Mbps if they have phones and tablets that can handle it.

Good news for city dwellers, but many rural areas are still without decent mobile coverage -- and some remote areas don't have any fixed-line broadband either. The government and various networks and tech companies see 4G as the solution to that problem, including EE. The company plans to build new infrastructure and use its lower-frequency 4G spectrum -- the signal travel further -- to expand the network's reach by more than 1,500 square miles. According to EE, that's an area bigger than the Lake District and Peak District National Parks combined, geography fans.

Part of the plan involves smaller and easier-to-build network sites than traditional mobile phone masts. That means sticking 4G kit on the side of rural shops and homes.

Currently 4G only handles data, as voice calls are still carried by the 3G network, with obvious implications for call quality and coverage. EE intends to introduce 4G voice calls -- also known as VoLTE -- as part of the network expansion.