The momentum shows no signs of deceleration in 2013, with an expected IPO on the cards and an increasingly competitive landscape as rival operators speed up the roll out of their own 4G networks and bring new propositions to market.
As EE blew out the candles on its first birthday cake on 30 October, it switched on a number of new price plans – including the UK’s first 4G pay as you go handset tariffs – bringing down the premium on upgrading from 3G to 4G, as it prepares for rival Three’s 4G launch in December. Three has promised customers it will charge no extra for access to 4G.
EE had a ten-month headstart to 4G, with O2 and Vodafone both launching their services in August. It still appears to be holding on first-mover advantage. EE 4G is available in 131 towns and cities and it has signed up more than 1.2 million customers, while Vodafone and O2’s 4G coverage currently reaches 10 towns and cities or fewer, offering EE more crucial opportunities to get consumers to trial its network’s speeds.
Spencer McHugh, EE brand director, says while rivals’ 4G launches have been “modest” to date, the brand must ensure marketing is kept “as fresh as possible” to ensure it remains relevant.
He adds: “It’s been an exciting, exhilarating year and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to launch a brand from scratch at such a scale…which allows you to look through a different lens at hte entire marketing process. We will continue to invest in the brand across all channels. We certainly still have a job to do, a year down the line we have achieved a lot of things, but we still have customers to win and we’re looking at ways to keep on doing that.”
Part of that evaluation will involve looking at the role launch ambassador Kevin Bacon plays with the brand, although McHugh says he “still has a future” with EE, but it may use him in different ways – a recent example having him feature on Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel, challenging the chef to a bacon sandwich making competition.
McHugh says EE will also bring more case studies to the fore – as it did earlier this year with a print campaign featuring customer London Air Ambulance – as it looks to showcase some of the “surprising” applications of 4G by consumers and businesses.
To date, much of EE’s marketing has focused on a speed. CCS Insight senior analyst Kester Mann says this is an approach EE should be “cautious” to continue if it is to go beyond early adopters to attracting the mainstream, particularly given Vodafone’s focus on content by offering a Spotify or Sky Sports bundle with its 4G tariffs.
Another key decision to make in 2014 is on the future of EE’s sister brands Orange and T-Mobile in the UK, particularly as its joint shareholders Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom gear up towards a mooted IPO or even possible sale of the business.
McHugh says while the company now goes to market with EE, there will still be a role for Orange and T-Mobile “in the immediate future”, although he admits in the long term that could change.
Mann says 2014 could even be the year the Orange and T-Mobile brands exit the UK market. As EE has reduced the premium to upgrade to 4G from Orange and T-Mobile to as little as £2 per month in some cases, it is a “struggle to see what [the Orange and T-Mobile] brands now stand for”, he adds.