EE hits 2m 4G customers, rivals have 'a lot of catching up to do'

EE has signed up two million 4G customers, leaving rivals O2, Three and Vodafone with "a lot of catching up to do."

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Two million phone fans have signed up to EE 4G, doubling the network's 4G customers in just four months -- leaving rivals O2, Three and Vodafone with "a lot of catching up to do."

EE was the first network in Britain to launch a 4G LTE service, back in October 2012. It took ten months to get that first million people signed up, but the second million has taken just four.

"The acceleration in customer uptake since hitting one million customers in September is impressive," says industry expert Kester Mann of CCS Insight. "Having for so long trailed other countries in licensing and deployment, the turnaround has been remarkable... This announcement reinforces our view that the UK is among the leading European markets for LTE."

EE highlights wider adoption of 4G by businesses as partly responsible for the quick growth, naming companies including Canon, Foxtons, Ikea, the London Air Ambulance, Microsoft, and the RAC as converts to superfast speeds.

But the accelerating growth in numbers signing on for 4G seems largely due to more competitive pricing and the expansion of EE's network, which at the moment is far more widespread than late-coming rivals: EE's 4G network is piping super-fast data into 160 towns and cities in Britain, including 20 cities with doubled speeds. EE says more than 70 per cent of the population will be able to connect to 4G by the end of this month.

'Still everything to play for'

Rivals Vodafone, O2 and Three, all of whom got in the 4G game late last year, still lag behind in terms of network coverage. They've come out fighting with more towns and cities covered, tasty discounts, and price cuts, but EE is still ahead of the game: "O2 and Vodafone have two ways to go," suggests  industry expert John Delaney of analysts IDC, "they can either massively undercut prices or play the waiting game and build their coverage. EE's numbers are encouraging for the industry as a whole, showing that a lot of customers are willing to pay extra, but coverage is clearly the differentiating factor and other networks clearly have a lot of catching up to do."

Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com, agrees there's "still everything to play for," acknowledging EE "has certainly gained a head start, effectively leveraging its existing T-Mobile and Orange customers in the upgrade to 4G. But it remains to be seen whether its two-tier speed offering will take off, and if its dominance will continue once the other providers stretch their legs with more widespread UK coverage."

Has EE got its prices right? Have the other networks tempted you with their offers, or is coverage-mean EE the only game in town? Tell me your 4G thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.