LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's biggest mobile operator, Everything Everywhere, announced the imminent launch of its superfast mobile service under the new brand EE, putting it in line to become the first operator to carry the iPhone 5 on the 4G network.
The operator, which had already stolen a march on its rivals by persuading regulator Ofcom to allow it to move ahead with a 4G service before other providers, says it will offer superfast connection speeds to 20 million people by Christmas.
"The networks built last century are too slow to handle the needs of this modern, digital age," Chief Executive Olaf Swantee told a press conference on Tuesday. , in reference to the explosion in popularity of smartphones and tablet computers. "We are going to change that."
Device makers including Samsung, Nokia, HTC and Huawei will be available through the EE brand, but the appeal of the new faster offering could be driven further by the expected launch of Apple's iPhone 5 on Wednesday.
"One more thing, we will be announcing more devices shortly," the chief executive added.
Everything Everywhere, a joint venture between France Telecom's Orange and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile, will use the new EE title for its shops, network and the 4G service. Its existing Orange and T-Mobile brands, which have 27 million customers, will remain.
EE will start offering a fixed-line fibre-optic service and the first fourth-generation mobile access within the next few weeks, delivering speeds around five times faster than existing 3G networks.
The demand for faster services has been driven largely by the popularity of smartphones and tablet computers.
The government, meanwhile, has urged the communications industry to invest in its infrastructure to boost the economy, especially in rural areas where connection speeds are generally slower. However, the rollout has been hampered by the threat of legal action from major operators over the allocation of spectrum - the airwaves that carry mobile signals.
Vodafone, 3 and Telefonica's O2 were incensed by Ofcom's decision to allow Everything Everywhere to move ahead with its 4G service while they have to wait to acquire spectrum in a much-delayed auction next year.
As part of an agreement negotiated by the government, the major operators have said they will hold off from taking legal action while they try to find a way to speed the auction process and spectrum release, a source familiar with the agreement said.
The EE brand began testing in four cities including London and it expects the service to be available in 16 cities by the end of the year. It has not released pricing details, but it aims to begin commercial rollout in about a month.
The operator, formed in 2010, is pinning its hopes on the new brand and the appeal of fast upload and download speeds to give it added momentum in the highly competitive British market.
However, the launch of EE does carry its own risks, possibly diverting customers from its original offerings and confusing consumers with the launch of another name to add to Orange and T-Mobile.
"Logic tells you that to sustain three brands is going to be very expensive, and it does bring some confusion into consumers' minds," Carrie Pawsey, senior telecoms strategy analyst at Ovum, told Reuters. "I think, ultimately, we will see the Orange and T-Mobile brands retired."
The company said it would also use the single EE name on its 700 stores, replacing the current mix of Orange, T-Mobile and Everything Everywhere shop signs.
It has already announced a 1.5 billion pound investment in its network over the next three years and plans to have 4G coverage for 98 percent of the population by the end of 2014.
Writing by Paul Sandle; Editing by David Goodman