Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, has flicked the switch to kick off Everything Everywhere's first live 4G trial in the North of England, a beacon of Government support for the company tussling with regulators.
Mr Gove was accompanied by local MP Rory Stewart, who said that 4G is "an important stimulus for the UK". The test will be based in Threlkeld, near the Lake District in Cumbria, and will run until the end of July.
Everything Everywhere is joint venture between Orange Mobile and T-Mobile's owners, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom. As part of the joint venture the company merged its 2G and 3G infrastructure, leaving space room at 1800MHz which makes it capable of launching 4G ahead of its rivals.
Vodafone, Three and O2 have been testing also, but are waiting for Ofcom's frequency auction at year end and currently don't have enough compatible spectrum available. EE has already set aside £1.5bn in the next three years to further improve its network.
One of the key advantages of 4G is its extended geographical reach, bringing DSL comparable speeds to the UK's most isolated areas - areas that the telcos have been reluctant to roll fixed line high speed broadband out to, due to a lack of return on investment. This makes the technology ideal for rural education, healthcare, business, farming, and policing.
Gove met pupils in year 10 and 11 from Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Penrith and observed them doing foreign language homework online. Schools now expect pupils to carry out online learning tasks as part of their homework, which has produced a rural connectivity problem.
'I'm really delighted to be switching on the first ever deployment of this cutting-edge technology in the North of England. Cumbria has - thanks to the work of local MP Rory Stewart - been at the vanguard of this work. Cumbria has unique needs due to its sparse population and long distances, which 4G LTE will help overcome. Cumbria's schools and educational opportunities will be revolutionised by this technology. Cumbria's record number of small businesses will be transformed by this next generation technology. 4G will bring jobs to rural areas and all the benefits of superfast broadband in education and health to its remote communities," said Gove.
Chief Constable Stuart Hyde also demonstrated a new 4G police communications device which operates over the network. Gove was also introduced to Susan Blakemore, Managing-Director of Cumbria Health, and from Mountain Rescue, who provided further demonstrations of 4G applications.
"New independent research shows that one in five households in Britain could depend on 4G for superfast broadband in the coming years. Britain deserves a 21st century digital infrastructure, and we're committed to making that a reality for the nation as soon as possible," said Olaf Swantee, Everything Everywhere CEO.
Today's tacit support from the Government for EE's technology, does not bode well for its competitors, furious at the company's apparent leg up in the 4G race. Even Labour has lashed out at the endless bureaucratic delays in rolling out 4G, by both public and private institutions. The auction was originally due to occur in 2007-08, but has been endlessly hampered by legal threats by companies delaying the auction for personal gain - putting the UK well behind key economic rivals, such as Germany, the US and South Korea.
It also falls nicely into EE's PR campaign which is now kicking into high gear, ostensibly to put pressure on Ofcom to clear its proposal. Just this week EE launched '4GBritain', a website consortium of technological partners designed to raise consumer awareness (and, presumably pressure the Government, Ofcom and the telcos) and a recent set of pro-4G research - EE commissioned a survey which suggested that 74% of those surveyed wanted 4G to launch as soon as possible. Another sponsored report suggests that 4G will boost the UK economy by £75bn.
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