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You've got 600k+ customers on 4G... but look behind you, EE

Rest of market about to open up to rivals

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EE has signed up 687,000 4G customers, and is in track to hit a million by year's end, but average revenue per user (ARPU) and total customer numbers are both a shade down as its 4G monopoly comes to an end.

EE, the fruit of a merger of T-Mobile and Orange in the UK, was given the monopoly on 4G last year, and loudly announced that it would have million 4G customers by the end of 2013. These quarterly figures make that look possible, but with all the other operators only weeks from launching 4G networks, the monopoly hasn't been the cash cow EE expected.

Customer numbers aren't down much; EE still has 27.5 million users and more than half of them are on contracts now (55 per cent) which slows churn and should increase ARPU. Sadly, for EE, ARPU is actually down more than one per cent on last year, to £18.40, though at least a decent proportion of that is coming from data.

Despite the downward trend, the EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization - basically the revenue figure once the accountants have deducted everything they can think of) is up almost 10 per cent for the first half of the year.

EE's monopoly emerged from it owning around half the UK's mobile phone spectrum, thanks to being formed from the merger of T-Mobile and Orange. Ofcom has removed all the technology restrictions on radio spectrum, so any band can be used for just about anything these days, permitting anyone with enough radio spectrum to deploy 4G - but EE was the only company with sufficient bandwidth.

That's not true any longer; following the auctions earlier this year all of the UK's operators will have 4G networks running by the autumn. The various network-sharing deals don't apply to 4G, so the coverage maps will differ widely, and ubiquitous coverage is a very long way off, but expect everyone to be trumpeting headline speeds within the next month or two. ®

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