June 23, 2014

BT 4G: Everything we know so far


There have been whispers of a BT branded 4G network for a long time now and we’re finally getting very close to it becoming a reality. As new details of its impending availability have just arrived here’s everything that we know so far.

What is BT 4G?

First of all it’s worth being aware that BT doesn’t have its own 4G network like EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone. Instead it’s setting up as an MVNO and piggybacking off EE’s 4G infrastructure.

That’s no bad thing as EE has the most widespread 4G coverage of any UK network, with around 72% of the UK covered already, so BT will have extensive coverage from day one.

The telecoms giant isn’t purely relying on EE though, as it does have some spectrum of its own. The company spent £186.5 million at the 4G spectrum auction back in February of 2013 and secured 2 x 15MHz and 1 x 20MHz of spectrum in the 2.66GHz band.

That’s a fairly small amount compared to rivals, in fact it amounts to just 9% of the total 4G spectrum holdings in the UK. But then as it’s using EE’s spectrum (which accounts for 36% of the UK total) it’s not reliant on it. BT will however use its own spectrum to boost its 4G offering, though the company hasn’t provided details on how exactly it will do that.

BT plans to further boost its mobile internet coverage by leveraging its extensive network of 5.4 million Wi-Fi hotspots, which is the biggest such network in the UK.

The company is also looking to upgrade customers’ Home Hubs to enable them to broadcast a 4G signal, as well as a Wi-Fi one. Then it will use fixed line broadband to carry voice calls and data as much as possible, as that’s cheaper than 4G, but the 4G will still be there when necessary.

It’s also likely that BT will place radio transmitters on EE’s masts, as well as inside airports, shopping centres, offices and other locations which could benefit from them.

Business 4G

BT’s initial venture into 4G will be for business customers, with a business 4G rollout planned within the next few weeks. The company plans to start helping its customers migrate over to the 4G service from next month, however it’s announced neither how long the migration process will take nor how much its business 4G service will cost, so stay tuned for more details.

Consumer 4G

Consumer 4G is on its way for BT customers too, but this isn’t set to arrive until April of next year. While nothing has been confirmed regarding its consumer 4G offering it’s expected that BT will launch a ‘quad-play’ package, whereby the company will offer broadband, landline phone, mobile phone and TV to customers in one bundle.

Virgin Media already offers such a package and it would make sense for BT to follow suit, as the company already has a huge landline and broadband base as well as a substantial number of TV subscribers, so bundling a mobile service in with them would allow the company to instantly tap into its existing customer base.

BT’s 4G consumer service also hasn’t been priced yet but it’s likely to be fairly competitive, especially if purchased as part of the aforementioned quad-play bundle.

This would be the first time BT has offered a mobile service to the consumer market since 2001 so it’s a big move for the company, but it’s a known name with a lot of customers and an intriguing approach to 4G, which could see it offer even better coverage than EE, all of which may be enough to make it a major player when it launches next year.

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