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EE demonstrates how NOT to play Monopoly

To read EE's Q1 figures and rationale one could be forgiven for thinking that everything in Everything's garden is tickety-boo and going entirely to plan - but an unalloyed Eden it is not.

According to the latest company communication with the media, EE is well on course to meet its target of "over a million" 4G users by the end of this year, citing the fact that it now has 318,000 subscribers signed-up. Thus, EE reckons, the million punter point is nobbut a cock stride away, as they say in Yorkshire. (for those of you unfamiliar with the argot of God's Own County, it means the target is near and reaching it will be easy).

However, while EE has added 318,000 new subscribers to its 4G rolls (some have been persuaded by advertising and marketing campaigns to churn over from other mobile networks whilst others from EE's two owners, Orange and T-Mobile, have upgraded to 4G) prepay customers are leaving EE in their droves. Indeed such is the rate of desertion that despite the increase in the number of admittedly high-value 4G customers, EE's overall subscriber numbers have declined markedly.

The operator makes much of its focus on what it calls "high value segments" and that 53 per cent of its customers are now post-pay but says as little as possible about the other side of the equation; the one that shows it lost 571,000 prepay customers to other networks in just the last 12 weeks alone.

That might seem comparatively trivial given that EE's post-pay base pays five times more in ARPU than do the hoi-polloi of the pre-pay bunch, but the fact is that the company's monopoly position as Britain's sole provider of "4G" will cease to exist before Christmas and new entrants to the 4G market will seek to attack EE by aggressively cutting prices and raising data caps. EE's days of wine and roses will soon end - and then look out for blood on the thorns.

EE's LTE network has come in for its fair share of criticism being variously described as limited and far from robust. However, the biggest cavil has been the sheer expense of being an EE 4G subscriber. The company has exploited its monopoly by ramping up the premium it charges for the privilege of subscribing to its services to eye-watering levels; levels that cannot possibly be sustained in a competitive environment. As a pointer on this, 3, the UK's first and original 3G player, has already promised that it will massively undercut EE's tariff when it goes live with 4G later in the year.

Elsewhere, EE did itself no favours with consumers by charging a ludicrous £21 a month SIM-only tariff for a paltry 500MB of data usage in the full knowledge that research consistently shows the majority of 4G users will consume at least 2GB a month.

On the plus side EE announced that is to is double network speed in the UK cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield, bringing data rates up to "an average" (note that "average" caveat ) of 20MB per second.

It may sound good but one thing EE does have is RF to spare and all it needs to do to "double" its speed is double the spectrum to be used from 10MH slots to 20MHz slots - a task easily managed. However, the acr tual speed punters will get will depend entirely on how many of them will try to take advantage of the advertised higher rate at the same time. Too many and the brakes will be well and truly engaged.

This morning several analysts have pointed out that the "doubled" speed hype has more to do with EE being able to continue to claim to be Britain's fastest mobile network than of any massive import to subscribers.

EE claims to be experiencing "solid, early 4G momentum" but remains remarkably reticent in many areas of its performance and progress, promising only to "updates on progress in upcoming announcements."

EE still has first mover advantage in a market with immense potential but if it fails to reach its "one million subscriber mark" by the end of the year and cut-throat competiton opens up the market whilst cutting prices, it may not be a matter of "Pass "Go" and collect £200" but more a case of "Just Visiting".

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