Customers must be able to trust network claims

The network that our customers use every day is built on years of dedication and billions of pounds of investment – investment into innovation and development of new technologies, into network planning, into extensive testing of devices, into building and linking 19,500 sites across the UK, and into collaboration with key partners like Apple, Samsung and Playstation. Reliability is fundamental to the work we do and because of that our network works better, wherever in the United Kingdom you might be accessing it.

Today, we are announcing that EE has switched on a 5G network in 13 new towns across the UK, bringing 5G to 125 places in total. And that brings me to a crucial point. Behind reliability sits credibility; before we ask our customers to rely on our network, they must be able to trust the information they are told about it.

When EE announces it has switched on a new place with 5G, there must be meaningful levels of coverage there, which we assess with clear benchmarks and strict criteria which need to be met. During our initial 5G rollout, we are only announcing places with a minimum population of 10,000 people, within which we must be delivering 5G coverage to at least a third of that local population as well as the centre of the location. Once announced this is really only the start for 5G coverage as we continue to invest and grow coverage in those towns and cities. For example, since we launched our 5G in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, we’ve more than doubled the amount of 5G sites in those cities.

I’m often asked, why bother with any criteria, why not just announce when even one site is live somewhere? Well, we believe customers need to trust our network, so their experience matches their expectations. We could loosen our criteria like some competitors; to be honest, it’s tempting, by so doing we would reveal 5G is actually in around 200 unique locations across the UK. However, we believe our claims should be as credible as our 5G is usable. We do not take our customers’ experience for granted.

Why does this matter? We know, through independent analysts, that networks which rush to announce places without proper coverage can offer a much narrower customer experience. For example, test results suggest that one rival’s network, which currently purports to have the highest number of 5G locations in the UK, actually has coverage levels lower than EE’s in many of those. Analysis from 2020 showed that they also suffered from the highest level of congestion among the major UK MNOs on the 5G they did have, slowing by more than 36% during peak hours.

Another rival, which recently claimed the best 5G in London, was quoting the results of a report that tested mainly only where they had strong signal, rather than capturing the wider area. In reality, we know our 5G network has a significantly larger footprint throughout London, with similar coverage leads reflected across other capitals, major cities and towns throughout the UK.

Or take a third rival, that claims to be the ‘best network’ before telling you, in the small print, it’s actually an award for customer service. (Though, one year into bringing all of our contact centres back to the UK, we are pushing them close on that front too.)

The lack of consistency in how, where and when networks claim to have 5G is frustrating. Yes, it’s frustrating to us; every fair and meaningful award for network coverage EE repeatedly wins. But it’s also frustrating for customers, who might buy into a claim only to be disappointed with the actual coverage they receive. It’s an area we are keen to address and are already working with Ofcom to monitor.

And this brings me back to reliability. It's not just about the number of towns and cities – although our expanding network means our customers still have access to the most extensive 5G coverage in the UK - it's the quality and availability of your 5G connection that counts.

Marc Allera, CEO Consumer Division, BT Group. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MarcAllera