EE, the network behind Orange and T-Mobile, turned on its 4G services in November. It’s got more than six months head start on rival networks and has already spent heavily on marketing and advertising (including hiring Kevin Bacon). However its new contract sales figures for Q4 were only very marginally better than in any other quarter of 2012.
PCPro reports that new contracts in Q4 2012 added up to 201,000 which was only 27 per cent of the total number of new customers during the year. The cloud had a silver lining; existing customers choosing to renew their contracts grew 20 per cent in the second half of 2012. So even though the 4G sales and marketing blitz didn’t attract new customers, it helped keep existing customers loyal. In addition EE managed to make “good progress” in up-selling existing Orange and T-Mobile customers onto more expensive 4G EE contracts.
The “solid, early momentum” of 4G adoption in EE's financial report was such a muted statement that an analyst speaking to ZDNet concluded that the rate of EE’s 4G network uptake “has not been spectacular”. He reasoned that any positive results would have been shouted from the rooftops, not buried within a combined 3G and 4G contract sales figure.
By all accounts it seems like EE has failed to capitalise on its first mover advantage, its exclusive six month window of opportunity. The new network brand has been criticised for both its pricing and data allowances. EE’s handset contracts, with a free smartphone, start at a high £31 per month with a paltry 500MB download allowance and the Nokia Lumia 820 as the only option at this price. Stepping up to £36 per month you are still offered 500MB of downloads but a choice of Lumia 820, HTC One SV or Huawei Ascend P1 for free. On this same £36 contract you will have to fork out an extra £100 for a Samsung Galaxy Note II or iPhone 5.
EE’s coverage has continued to grow quite rapidly but in the summer it is expected that all the other UK mobile networks will be offering 4G services. Already we have heard that the smallest UK operator, Three, will not charge any premium or upgrade fee for customers to use 4G data.