Chinese kit supplier Huawei has scored a win with EE, signing a deal to upgrade the operator's 2G infrastructure and hoping to be in prime position when it comes to 4G too.
Over the next four years, Huawei will replace the entire 2G network that Everything Everywhere inherited from the merger of T-Mobile and Orange. The shiny new network will, apparently, offer greater sensitivity, and thus improved coverage, allowing EE to remove even more duplicate sites than previously imagined. It also comes with Huawei-shaped slots ready for an upgrade to 4G, although Everything Everywhere has yet to commit to a supplier for its 4G network.
Neither company is saying how much the deal is worth, but replacing somewhere south of 10,000 base stations, and associated infrastructure, will certainly runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. Huawei's solution is very IP-based, converting traffic to Internet Protocol before back haul, which makes it cheaper to handle. Huawei also tells us that EE will save on the 'leccy bill thanks to more efficient processing.
Much of that processing will be concerned with voice traffic, as Huawei is replacing only the 2G network (which includes GPRS and EDGE, but nothing faster). EE's 3G network is owned and operated by the joint venture that was set up by T-Mobile and Three before T-Mobile UK merged with Orange. The 3G network is still pretty new, and the joint venture was always expected to extend into 4G technologies. That could be accomplished by filling the slots Huawei will be leaving in its supplied cabinets, though the joint ownership complicates matters.
But despite being limited to 2G technology, Huawei is promising that better antennas and filters will mean greater coverage from fewer base stations. Not only that, but we're told it will improve indoor coverage and provide sound quality equivalent to the HD Voice standard that is possible on 3G networks. We'll have to hear that for ourselves before we are convinced, but base stations technology has moved on considerably since T-Mobile and Orange deployed their existing infrastructure.
That infrastructure will be ripped out from EE's 2G sites. It was originally supplied to T-Mobile by Nokia Siemens Networks, and to Orange by Ericsson and Nortel. But the significance of this deal is not just that EE is refurbishing a 2G network, it is that Huawei is getting its technology into a UK network, as well as getting itself a seat at the oligopoly table. ®