2023: A year of records, improved rural connectivity, and enhanced reliability
Dec 22, 2023
2023 has been a record-breaking year. We’ve successfully managed more record peaks in network traffic (30.1Tbps being the latest), a record 200 million devices now connect to our network every day, and we’ve continued to deliver a record expansion of our mobile network, with EE 5G now covering more than 70% of the UK population and our 4G network being strengthened in 1,500 more rural communities.
Together, this culminated in us winning multiple awards and EE being named the UK’s best and most reliable network by RootMetrics for a record tenth year in a row, following extensive testing of the nationwide performance of all the UK’s mobile operators. Our network leadership – especially our 5G performance in major cities like London and Edinburgh – was also reinforced in Ofcom’s latest Connected Nations Report.
These achievements take hard work, a laser focus on wanting to build a network that people can rely on, and choosing to invest in a network to make that vision a reality.
But more important than awards and milestones, this year our network delivered a superior connectivity experience for more people, in more places, more of the time. And that is something we take immense pride in.
Every day our network – both fixed and mobile – empowers our customers to stay connected to the people and things that matter most to them. Whether it is video calling their kids while commuting home from work, seamlessly streaming their favourite TV shows and sports matches, enjoying low-latency online gaming with friends, or ordering that last present online so it arrives in time for Christmas, our network underpins it all.
The rural rollout continues
As we look back over the last twelve months, one of the areas where there has been considerable progress is the continued rollout of 4G to more rural communities across the UK.
4G is the most widespread and reliable form of mobile technology available today and as part of our work with the Scottish Government’s 4G infill programme (S4GI), residents, local businesses, and the emergency services in 51 locations across Scotland – including some of the UK’s most remote island communities like Foula, Jura and Out Skerries – now have access to reliable and fast 4G mobile connectivity from EE.
For some, this new mobile internet access has “opened up a whole new world” of online shopping just in time for Christmas. For others, like the owners of the Deerness Distillery in Orkney, it is helping support the growth of their business at a vital time, while for healthcare services like those provided by the Jura Medical Practice, it is supporting life-saving treatment for critically ill patients.
We have also made important progress this year on our commitments under the Shared Rural Network (SRN). Having upgraded or built more than 1,500 4G masts as part of the SRN, spanning every region of the UK, we are not only on track to meet our rural coverage targets by summer 2024, but our network is leading the way in proactively helping close the digital divide between rural and urban areas.
In the last five years, we have been able to expand our 4G footprint by more than 10,000 square kilometres, helping ensure we continue to deliver the connectivity boost countryside communities across the UK can rely on in 2024 and beyond.
Yorkshire Water is just one of many rural businesses capitalising on the new connectivity, using our 4G network to connect state-of-the-art IoT (Internet of Things) monitors on water courses feeding its Scar House reservoir, enabling its team of scientists and engineers to monitor water quality in real-time and ensure they are delivering for the local community and the environment.
And it’s not just 4G connectivity we’re bringing to rural areas. Our partnership with OneWeb has now delivered fast and reliable internet on Lundy Island off the coast of North Devon for the first time via Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites!
A need for speed
Like most years, 2023 also saw us support major events, festivals, and local shows with additional network capacity. From iconic one-off spectacles like the King’s coronation and the UK’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest, to the biggest annual racing events like the Formula One British Grand Prix and Cheltenham Festival, we rolled out 125 upgrades on temporary mobile masts to boost the speed, capacity and reliability of our network in the busiest of places - delivering a fan experience worthy of these iconic events.
Certain events also required us to be creative with the deployment of our network infrastructure too. For instance, every August the population of Edinburgh doubles as more than 500,000 people visit the city for its renowned Fringe Festival. To help boost mobile coverage in the busiest areas of the city, we deployed numerous small cell sites to help enhance street-level mobile coverage in areas where it is impractical to build larger masts. This meant we ensured the city's mobile network had the capacity to cope with this significant increase in demand during festival season.
This is a strategy we have successfully implemented across the country in 2023, with more than 600 UK-wide small cell sites currently carrying more than 20TB of data traffic every single day – the equivalent of streaming 280,000 hours of music.
But it is not just about boosting temporary network capacity. With hundreds of thousands of customers descending on Silverstone, Glastonbury, and Wembley to support their favourite drivers, artists, and football teams this year, our permanent 5G sites in these areas also ensured the big crowds could connect and harness the performance of our network to capture and share life-long memories.
In fact, since we became the first operator to launch a 5G service in the UK back in 2019, we have increased the average mobile download speed for our customers by 121%.
Keeping connectivity on track
We have worked hard to make sure our network not only supports customers where they live, work, and socialise, but also how they get there – and that is something we have made great strides in boosting this year. Our 5G network now covers more major road and rail routes than ever before, including around the UK’s busiest and largest train stations.
Whether they are travelling from Exeter St Davids, Birmingham New Street and London Waterloo, or Glasgow Central, Manchester Piccadilly, Cardiff Central, Kings Cross or St Pancras International, commuters and tourists can benefit from reliable mobile connectivity.
But it is not just above ground. Our connectivity upgrades throughout Transport for London’s underground network have also been crucial in elevating the rail experience in the UK’s capital. This year saw high-speed coverage go live at the first West End stations and was recently followed by the first four Elizabeth Line stations amongst others.
Over the past year, commuters on the Northern and Central lines alone have already used 424.5TB of data, which is the equivalent of spending 28 million hours surfing the internet.
New year, same vision
As the festive period begins and 2023 draws to a close, this next twelve months will see us continue to proactively invest in our network as we work towards realising our vision of being the first operator to deliver a 5G ‘on demand’ connection anywhere in the UK by 2028.
It will also see us continue to roll out full fibre broadband connections to millions more homes and develop new innovations to make our network more efficient and sustainable for future generations, helping us have a greater positive impact on our customers, the planet, and the UK economy in 2024.
By Greg McCall, Chief Networks Officer
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