BT's EE demos Europe's first Gigabit LTE service

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

UK mobile operator partners with Qualcomm and Sony to demonstrate the advanced 4G connectivity at Wembley Stadium

EE speed test body pic

The operator became the first telco to demonstrate commercial Gigabit LTE services in Europe after deploying the technology in London’s Tech City and Cardiff (pictured, above), but it has unveiled plans to rollout the service to the rest of the UK.

Demonstrating the technology at Wembley, which EE sponsors, the BT-owned telco teamed with chipset-maker Qualcomm and Japanese electronics firm Sony.

Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium is the only Category 16 compliant handset available in Europe. In demonstrations to gathered journalists, including GTB, the handset hit stable download throughput speeds of between 600 and 700Mbps.

Speaking at the event, EE head of network communications Howard Jones admitted the operator has no plans to deploy the service everywhere, instead focussing on the most densely populated areas of its network. Jones added: “Looking back at Cat 6 (two bands -1800MHz and 2600MHz), we now have just shy of 3,000 sites enabled with that covering 150 towns and cities across the UK.

EE Howard Jones 160x186
EE's Howard Jones spoke about its Gigabit LTE service
Jones also explained that there would be no premium charged for customers looking to use it, although it would initially only be available to customers using EE’s 4G Max tariff.

“The service is live now,” he said. “Our tariff structure now is 4G, 4G Extra and 4G Max. Max plans get the best of the network that is available to them at the time. It will be integrated into those plans, with no caps.”

A Gigabit World

Australia’s Telstra debuted the world’s first commercial gigabit LTE network and device last October with partners Ericsson, Qualcomm and Netgear. It is deploying the service in select locations across the country, while T-Mobile US has also discussed potential deployments.

EE was the first network in the UK to support ‘Cat 9’ mobile devices, in September 2016, and is extending its network leadership by being the first to support ‘Cat 16’ mobile devices with Gigabit LTE.

Tom Bennett, Director of Network Services and Devices at EE, said: “Peak speeds get all the headlines, and their importance is simple: the higher the peak speed on our network, the better the average speed for every customer. And better average throughput means customers are doing more and getting their content more quickly and more consistently - and that means they’re happier. 

“We will keep investing to stay at the cutting edge of network and device technology so that our customers keep getting the best possible network experience. Working with the best technology companies across the mobile industry is vital to that.”

Gigabit LTE is enabled by LTE Advanced features including 4x4 MIMO, 3xCA (Three Carrier Aggregation) and 256-QAM higher order modulation. Gigabit LTE capability, which has been pioneered by Qualcomm Technologies is an essential pillar for the 5G mobile experience as the high-speed coverage layer that co-exists and interworks with nascent 5G networks.

In one demonstration, EE and Qualcomm also highlighted how Gigabit LTE will benefit not only users connected to a Cat 16 connection but also other 4G users. It achieves this by processing data for Cat 16 devices faster, reducing congestion on the network, improving speeds and reliability for other users.

EE is able to launch the Gigabit LTE service using its 2600MHz spectrum band. The operator has come under fire from rival Three for possessing too great a share of the UK’s spectrum allowance. It uses advanced mobile technology such as 4x4 MIMO and 256-QAM - both techologies of which are expected to be used in future 5G deployments.

When asked about the possibility of using unlicensed spectrum to boost its deployment, Jones said EE doesn’t need to at this time: “We’re lucky enough to have a good sized block of contiguous high frequency spectrum so at the moment we don’t need to, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t look at it further on.”