With Christmas looming, it seemed somewhat unlikely that we’d see EE switch on its long awaited 800MHz 4G service until next year now. Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling people for a while.
So colour me surprised when I discovered that 800 will be activated this year after all. And it’s actually happening
next week this week! [Update 11AM: Confirmed now as November 23rd 2016 – see release posted below, which contains details of locations that will see service first]
At no time has EE ever stated how many sites are going to be activated for 800MHz, and that’s still the case now – although from next week it should be possible to see the improvements on EE’s coverage checker, which already asks what handset you’re using (find out more why later on). [Update: The official release confirms 700 sites activated today, and EE has told me on Twitter that the website will be showing 800 sites from December 1st]
Update 15th December 2016: ALL users will be given access to 800MHz (subject to having a compatible phone) at 0001 on the 16th December.
What EE has done is state how much of a difference 800MHz 4G is going to make, and it’s pretty impressive.
In a nutshell, it’s going to increase 4G coverage by 2% geographic coverage straight away. That’s equivalent to an area the size of Northumberland (5,000 square kilometres).
Indoor coverage will improve in approximately 500,000 homes, which is no small figure.
- Update 1400 GMT, November 23: It seems that EE is a little confused about what constitutes going live, and the EE Community Forum and Twitter support accounts have been suggesting that while the 800MHz network has gone live today, users will need to be provisioned for access – and that could take between now and 1st December to happen, coincidentally the same date that the online coverage checker will begin to show 800MHz sites when you enter a compatible phone.This reminds me a bit of the shambles when Three launched 4G, but didn’t actually give users access for some considerable time after. However, in this case the worst case scenario is a wait of just over a week from today, and for some it could be less than that.EE has also said that it is activating 150 sites per week, many of which will be 1800MHz 4G – available to all 4G EE phone users.
So what are the catches?
Well, the bad news is that the number of compatible handsets hasn’t changed much since VoLTE got the official switch-on late earlier this year. And some of the handsets that are compatible will only be so if you bought them from EE (or flash EE software on manually).
That’s a bit of a pain, but EE is actively seeking to get more handsets supported as quickly as possible, including the Nexus 5X and 6P. Some new handsets coming soon should also be covered. In 2017, it’s unlikely any phone will be sold by EE without native support from day one.
The recently released Google Pixel and Pixel XL are already covered (whether you bought from EE or Google direct), and iPhone users have been set since late last year – just as long as 4G Calling is activated in settings.
The other catch is that, for now, only pay monthly customers can join the party.
What does 800MHz mean for EE customers?
The activation of EE’s 800MHz spectrum is a massive deal for EE customers, as the service will often extend beyond the reach of existing 2G and 3G layers. Because this will create many places served only by 4G, which traditionally doesn’t support voice, EE must restrict access to those using a phone that supports VoLTE, or ‘4G Calling’ as it will be marketed as.
A list of compatible 4G Calling devices is listed below, and in due course EE will be actively promoting which handsets are supported in stores and other advertising.
How EE chooses to market 4G Calling remains to be seen. It’s not something every customer is going to fully understand, either that their phone isn’t compatible (and not appreciating why), or alternatively not fully understanding why 800MHz is such a big deal. I mean, what the hell does 800, 1800, 2100, 2600 and so on even mean?
But, if you’re reading this here, you probably do know. And you’ll believe me when I say that it’s going to be something you definitely want access to. Whether for travelling in remote areas, or when spending a lot of time indoors.
It’s important to note that EE doesn’t have a tremendous amount of spectrum. Just 5MHz in fact. This means data speeds aren’t going to be incredible, but 800MHz should only ever be used by your phone when 1800MHz or 2600MHz 4G isn’t available.
Assuming the network does prioritise 4G over 3G (which Three doesn’t yet do with its own 800MHz offering, meaning it prefers 3G before connecting to 800MHz 4G), some people may never get to see 3G ever again. This should bring lower latency connections, which won’t suffer from cell breathing (where coverage shrinks as usage goes up), and also boosts upload speeds.
(List correct as of November 17th 2016)
These are the phones that will be supported from next week (week commencing 21st November 2016). Expect more handsets to be added later, including updates on existing handsets sold by EE.
I believe the Nexus 5X will soon be added, and once Huawei deals with some compatibility problems, there should be support for the Nexus 6P and many other Huawei/Honor phones.
In addition, the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge running the Nougat ROM can also access VoLTE settings, while the OnePlus 3 (and 3T presumably) apparently has support, based on posts on EE’s own community forum, even though not listed.
EE also intends to offer its first 4G Calling compatible phone selling for under £100 in 2017.
|Handset||Sold via EE||Sold elsewhere|
|Apple iPhone 7||Yes||Yes|
|Apple iPhone 7 Plus||Yes||Yes|
|Apple iPhone 6 & 6s||Yes||Yes|
|Apple iPhone 6 & 6s Plus||Yes||Yes|
|Apple iPhone SE||Yes||Yes|
|LG G5 SE||Yes||No|
|LG X-Cam (K7)||Yes||No|
|Microsoft Lumia 950||Yes||Yes|
|Microsoft Lumia 950 XL (corporate only)||Yes||Yes|
|Microsoft Lumia 550||Yes||Yes|
|Microsoft Lumia 650||Yes||Yes|
|Samsung Galaxy S7||Yes||No|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 edge||Yes||No|
|Sony Xperia X||Yes||No|
|Sony Xperia X Compact||Yes||No|
|Sony Xperia XZ||Yes||No|
|Sony Xperia Z5||Yes||No|
|Sony Xperia Z5 Compact||Yes||No|
|Sony Xperia Z5 Premium||Yes||No|
|Google Pixel XL||Yes||Yes|
Let everyone know how you get on
When you get to experience access to EE’s 800MHz network next week, please post your comments below.
- Has it made a big difference to coverage in your home, office or local pub?
- Are you now finding it near impossible to connect to 3G or 2G?
- Or has it not made a blind bit of difference to you, and it all seems like a load of hype over nothing?
Official Press Release
23 November 2016, London – EE, the UK’s biggest mobile operator and part of BT Group, is calling for all mobile operators to get ‘Clear on Coverage’ and deliver clearer information about where customers can expect to get a mobile signal. An EE survey of 4,000 UK mobile users revealed that confusion about mobile network coverage has led to false expectations about where customers can make calls and use data, particularly in rural areas.
EE’s CEO is pledging to report all coverage in geographic terms from January 2017, delivering on the he made in April for better reporting on coverage and experience across the mobile industry. Marc Allera has written an open letter to all three mobile operator CEOs, and has asked Ofcom for support in driving the entire mobile industry to get ‘Clear on Coverage’.
EE CEO Marc Allera said: “From streaming music to making video calls, our customers use their smartphones wherever they go and tell us loud and clear that a 4G signal is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a ‘must have’. Today, people think they will get mobile coverage absolutely everywhere, because as an industry we’ve talked about coverage with confusing population metrics, and language that sets the wrong expectations. Too often, the customer experience has been very different from the marketing. That has to stop.
“We’re asking our peers and the mobile industry to get ‘Clear on Coverage’. All operators should publish clearer geographic coverage information, and we’re seeking support from Ofcom as the independent source of information on mobile coverage and quality. We want to make it easier and clearer for consumers to know where they will and won’t get coverage, and which network is the right one for them.”
As part of EE’s promise to get ‘Clear on Coverage,’ EE will:
- Stop using population coverage measurements in isolation when communicating with customers
- Publish regular updates on geographic coverage and data speed by county and by major roads
- Work with Ofcom to provide consumer advice on the role of devices in network experience
- Meet with Ofcom and all operator CEOs to agree next steps on how to get ‘Clear on Coverage’
EE’s ‘Clear on Coverage’ survey by research house ICM surveyed 4,000 consumers and found that:
- Based on current advertised population metrics*, 50% of consumers expect to have mobile signal wherever they go in the UK
- Nearly half of all UK mobile users don’t know what coverage measurement to look for when choosing a mobile network provider, despite rating network coverage as one of their most important considerations
- A third of all UK mobile users are least satisfied with their mobile network coverage when travelling
- The area where UK mobile users are least satisfied about their mobile coverage is when they are travelling in rural areas
*based on network provider telling UK mobile users they have 99% population coverage
Sarah Lee, head of policy, Countryside Alliance said: “We welcome EE’s call for the mobile industry to deliver clearer information to customers about where they can expect to get a signal. It is vital that mobile consumers are able to make an informed decision about which network has the potential to serve them best.
“I am glad that EE recognises that the lack of clear information for consumers has been a particular problem in rural areas. We believe that the move towards reporting all coverage in geographic terms by January 2017 is a step in the right direction and has the potential to offer significant benefits to rural consumers. The Countryside Alliance have long believed that the population based approach to monitoring coverage has failed consumers in rural areas.”
Largest network expansion in the UK
EE is the first to embrace clearer geographic measurements and is working towards covering 95% of the UK with 4G by 2020. This year alone, EE has added 4G coverage to 25% of the UK landmass, and has now connected 75% of the UK with superfast speeds.
4G from EE is now available in more places than any 3G network, just four years after launch, marking the UK’s fastest network expansion.
Today, EE has also switched on its low frequency 800MHz spectrum on 700 sites across the country, filling in 5,000 square kilometres of 4G not spots overnight and improving indoor signal in 500,000 homes. Parts of Shropshire, Somerset, Snowdonia, Oban, Glasgow, Berkshire and Derbyshire are among those getting 4G for the first time thanks to the switch on. Another 3,000 sites will be equipped with the low frequency spectrum before the end of 2017.
Customers will need a 4G Calling-capable phone to use the new low frequency signal. 4G Calling is available on monthly SIM and handset plans, on the majority of EE’s device range. EE is committing today to launch its first 4G Calling smartphone under £100 in 2017 to provide an affordable choice for customers who simply want outstanding call quality and reliability, but may not need all of the features of the latest 4G smartphones.
100% UK & Ireland EE Customer Service
Following the onshoring of all EE Pay monthly customer service calls in July, EE will also complete its commitment to answer all EE customer service calls in the UK and Ireland by onshoring Pay as you go and Home customer service calls in December.
As part of EE’s plan to be number one for customer experience, EE has created more than 1,000 new call centre jobs in North Tyneside, Darlington, Plymouth and Merthyr Tydfil in 2016. EE’s customer service improvements have seen complaints drop 50% year on year, now well below the industry average with fewer than five complaints per 100,000 customers, and customer churn has fallen to its lowest ever levels at just 1%.
EE has also launched an innovative Network Status Checker tool, to provide real-time and personal updates to customers about network performance. Customers can set tailored alerts for places that are important to them, such as their place of work, home or home of a loved one, and they will receive personalised alerts if there are network issues.
To learn more about EE’s mobile coverage with indications of indoor and outdoor signal on 2G, 3G and 4G customers can use EE’s online coverage checker.