EE is rebuilding 3G spectrum for 4G to lay the foundation for a launch of 5G mobile services in 2019.
The BT operator uses the 2100MHz bandwidth to amplify 4G signals at 500 mobile towers in the busiest parts of the EE network, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Exeter, Hull, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast.
The extra band allows EE to offer five-band carrier aggregation (CAA), using the use of a different spectrum to improve speeds and capacity, making it the only UK operator that can do this .
EE 5G is launched
The first commercial 5G networks will lend certain elements, such as LTE's core network, but will use new radio technologies that enable significantly higher speeds. The sites that EE plans to upgrade with 2100MHz will be the first 5G-enabled locations.
The switchover was made possible by the decreasing use of the EE 3G network caused by the expansion of 4G coverage and the roll-out of LTE (VoLTE). There are now more calls with 4G and then with 3G, while Voice-over-Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) technology has improved reliability.
"Our customers want a fast and reliable 4G connection, and that's what we're working to give them," said EE CEO Marc Allera. "We use the investment we have made in the 3G spectrum almost 15 years ago to offer our customers a great experience today with the latest smartphones at 4G and to build our 5G base in 2019. We are constantly evolving and customer experience of 5G will be dictated by the quality of the 4G network underneath. "
EE has previously announced a possible start window for 5G for 5G and has conducted trials at Tech City and Wembley Stadium in London using the 3.4 GHz spectrum that won earlier this year at the Ofcom spectrum auction.
It was thought that the UK would not have a 4G service until 2020, but BT would like to be the first to come on the market as part of its converged network strategy.
EE, the first UK operator to launch 4G in 2012 after receiving permission from the regulator to reuse 1800MHz radio waves that used to power the 3G networks of Orange and T-Mobile.