The boss of Britain’s biggest mobile operator, EE, claims it is so far ahead in offering superfast 4G services that rivals will never catch up.
Olaf Swantee made the claim as EE revealed that nearly 400,000 customers have signed up for the 4G mobile service which launched in October last year and allows customers to access the internet much faster when they are on the move. The company said it was “firmly on track” to hit its target of 1m 4G customers by the end of the year.
Rival mobile giants, Vodafone, O2 and Three are poised to roll out their own 4G mobile services, but Mr Swantee said that EE’s slice of the airwaves means that they are fighting a losing battle.
“They will not catch up. They can’t. They can’t offer the [4g] speeds I will offer in June, let along the speeds I may offer next year or the year after. It’s a technical certainty,” he told The Telegraph. “We have 36pc of all the airwaves in the country and have announced we will double the speeds in June.”
EE got a headstart in the race to launch 4G services after persuading Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, that it should be able to use some of its existing airwaves for the superfast service. The rest of Britain’s Big Four mobile operators had to wait for Ofcom to auction the government’s airwaves before they could get going with their own 4G networks. They are expected to launch 4G services in the coming weeks.
Analysts claim that EE’s push for 4G customers had got off to a slow start, but Mr Swantee said yesterday it has been accelerating as more people start to understand what the superfast service can do.
“We were at 318,000 [4G subscribers] at the end of March. We might even hit 400,000 by the end of today or tomorrow. The momentum is building,” he said.
Analysts were also positive about EE’s progress in 4G, which out-stripped expectations. Matthew Howett at Ovum said: “As well as confirming that there is appetite for 4G, [the new 4G users] are also higher value customers which will help boost financials in the face of continued regulatory pressure and a decline in traditional voice and messaging.”
However, there was surprise at the number of pay as you go customers who left EE’s Orange and T-Mobile networks over the same period. Some 571,000 users hung up on the two longstanding brands.
EE’s 4G customers typically spend a lot more than the average mobile users, and will help to offset a fall in revenues for its traditional 3G and pay as you go services.
Overall, the company’s income from calls, texts and mobile internet usage fell 5.4pc on last year to £1.4bn. EE blamed a change in the rules around how much mobile operators can charge to connect calls from rival networks. The charges, which used to give mobile operators a significant boost, are being phased out, accounting for 5pc of the fall in EE’s service revenues in the last quarter.
Neil Milson, chief financial officer, said: “The regulation is the big thing. Before we set off and get out of bed, we lose 5pc. That’s a huge factor.
“We have to build a new model in the back of that. It’s about getting people to sign up to a larger subscription.”