In a blog on the Vodafone website, its UK CEO Jeroen Hoencamp claims the global operator could build something as fast, or faster than, EE’s 300Mbps - it just doesn’t want to.
Hoencamp claims that “one of the things that makes us different from others is that we have our 'low band spectrum'. What that means is that our 4G is on a lower frequency, which travels further [sic] and deeper indoors. Forget all the technicalities: all it means is that we can offer great indoor coverage”.
By low band, he means the 900MHz, which Vodafone has had for 30 years, and the 800MHz which Vodafone bought in the 4G auctions.
This is broadly similar to O2’s holding.
While EE does have some 800MHz, the majority of EE’s spectrum holding is 1800MHz (having the lion’s share of both Orange and T-Mobile spectrum), and they (Vodafone and EE) both have 2100MHz (used for 3G) and 2.6GHz spectrum.
So it’s no wonder that they are building out differently. Ultimately, EE has significantly more spectrum than the other networks, and when the BT acquisition of EE goes through, its holding will be nearly twice that of Vodafone.
However, only a tiny fraction is under 900MHz – which means building a lot of cell towers. Vodafone on the other hand can get more coverage, and in-building coverage, with less infrastructure.
So Hoencamp is playing to Vodafone’s spectrum strength when he claims that "we could build a network just to achieve massive speeds, but the reality is that you don’t currently need anything beyond 20Mbps on a mobile device".
"Even for streaming video you only need a couple of megabits per second," he continues, "so we think less about absolute speed and more about using that bandwidth to enable more customers to enjoy great content on the move, even in the busiest places and at the busiest times."
Vodafone does, however, have faster speeds and launched carrier aggregation last October. In our testing, EE’s dual carrier gave just 20Mbps. So it sounds as though Hoencamp isn’t looking for this to get any faster any time soon.
Vodafone doesn't have any obligation to provide 4G coverage – only O2 bought frequencies which gave requirements – and the recent Not-Spot deal may require more coverage but doesn’t specify on which technology.
Vodafone, as part of its Project Spring, has rolled out to 50 per cent of the UK population (note, not half the UK’s land mass, and you can do 10 per cent of population with just London). Hoencamp said it is "more about having the strongest signal. We’d love to expand the network faster, but it’s about doing it right first time".
"I’d rather do it at the pace we’re doing and get it right, than try to go faster and build a thin and flimsy network," he added. "You can have a few sites here and there, but that would give you really patchy signals. We only turn 4G on when we have built or updated enough sites.”
Hoencamp’s 20Mbps supposedly being plenty is in stark contrast to Ukko Networks in Finland, which has demonstrated 507Mbps on Huawei kit running on two 20MHz aggregated carriers.
Mmmmmm, sounds like Hoencamp won’t be the first in line to buy it. ®