EE turn 3G into 4G in preparation for 5G

14 September 2018   By Jo Bailey

The mobile carrier is converting 3G airwaves into a 4G signal to boost mobile internet speed in 11 cities across the UK.

Over the next six months, EE will switch over from 3G to 4G signal in more than 500 of its mobile towers. The sites due for upgrade are in the network's self-defined 'hotspots', where the demand for mobile data is highest.

The conversion is designed to support the capabilities of the nations latest smartphones, offering high speed connectivity and the clearest voice calls possible. Connections will be more reliable and are designed to pave the way for a 5G switch on next year.

This follows EE's win of 40 MHz of 4.3 GHz spectrum, at a cost of over £300m, in the Ofcom auction earlier this year. Using the 3G spectrum to power 4G means they are the first operator to offer five 'carriers' of spectrum in the UK.

ee tablet in city
© EE

Where will get the 4G upgrade?

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EE has said that the sites it plans to upgrade are in it's own predefined 'hotspots'. These have been identified as being areas where the demand for mobile internet is greatest. Most of the sites are in cities, including:

  • Birmingham
  • Belfast
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Edinburgh
  • Exeter
  • Glasgow
  • Hull
  • London
  • Manchester
  • Nottingham

The sites due for upgrade will mean five 'carriers' of 4G will be available. This will be achieved by using the 2100MHz (3G) spectrum to power a stronger 4G connection. EE say that they are they only UK operator to offer this many carriers at the same time.

The latest smartphone technology supports up to five carriers, indicated as '5CA' in the specs of the handsets. Using five carriers means not only faster connections to the internet, but also better quality of voice calls too.
What can users expect from their upgraded connections?

EE say that more users than ever before are using 4G to make calls. 4G calling can mean staying connected in areas with only a Wi-fi signal but no voice calling reception. Users can also benefit from enhanced voice services (EVS) which gives a clearer voice quality than other technology.

In addition to this, EE are pioneering smart number technology which can allow users to make calls with their own telephone number on up to five other devices. This includes laptops and tablets, but at the moment is only available to iOS users.

EE are the first mobile network to offer 4G connectivity for the Apple Watch Series 3. Using a 4G network, users of the watch can make voice calls and receive texts even if their iPhone is not nearby.

When will 5G be coming?

EE have stated in their press release that 5G will be switched on in 2019. That's a year earlier than the European Commission's target of commercialisation of 5G by 2020. They say that by having maximum capacity 4G in the areas of highest demand, they can switch on 5G faster and more effectively than the competition.

5G is currently being tested in the West Midlands, where researchers are probing just how this type of connection could be used alongside technology. For home users, 5G could offer a viable alternative to fibre broadband, either in areas where there is no coverage or if, as speculated, it is indeed reaching capacity.

For a long time now, EE have led the way in high speed mobile connections, launching a 300Mb LTE service in East London back in 2013. For five years in a row, the network have been crowned the best performing in the UK, and were the first to roll out 4G+ last year.

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