By David Kennedy 23 May 2019
The much anticipated and frantically accelerated plan to introduce 5G in the UK finally made its debut on May 30. With that, EE is the first major European operator to commercially launch 5G for consumers in the UK, although second to Swisscom in the region.
The launch by EE has global significance and will certainly serve as a guide for the rest of Europe and beyond. Looking at some of the critical elements of EE's 5G proposition – namely network, devices, data pricing, and content – we think that EE has lessons for both its European counterparts and the global operators' community currently working on their 5G propositions.
As we noted before, the 5G ecosystem is loading up quite quickly, and there will be more launches this year. Being ready by next year will be vital to virtually every player. Apple and Qualcomm have settled their ongoing dispute, making it more likely to see an Apple 5G device in 2020. Hence, anybody wanting to acquire and retain a significant share of the high-spending Apple devotees needs to be ready sooner rather than later. In preparation for that, EE's launch offers many inspiring features, but EE themselves can also benefit from looking at what has been done elsewhere.
EE has plenty of experience in launching new mobile propositions and is particularly skilled both at striking first and at reaping the PR advantages that come with being the first. EE's 5G launch has become a matter of national pride. It enjoyed extensive news coverage by all major national broadcasters and newspapers, but the buzz was even more upbeat on the internet and social networks. EE's portfolio of devices available to the customer is extensive, featuring almost every single available 5G device on the market, including OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Oppo Reno, and LG V50 ThinQ 5G, as well as 5G hotspot devices from LG and HTC. Missing from the list is the Huawei Mate 20X (5G) – despite being part of the original plans, its introduction was paused due to global wider geopolitical pressure led by US authorities. Of course, premium content, prices, and network availability are also important elements in the proposition, and this is where EE has lessons to learn as well as teach.
The first lesson EE needs to learn comes from itself and is about the network. EE's 4G launch was an undisputed success, largely thanks to its aggressive rollout from the outset and its commitment to provide coverage to 70% of the population within a year or so of switching it on. Such commitment provides indispensable peace of mind to customers, who are committing to a one- or two-year contract. This is especially important if customers commit to pay a premium for the privilege of 5G.
As expected, 5G carries a price premium over 4G. For instance, the retail price of the cheapest 5G plan, a SIM-only £32-monthly plan with 20GB, compares to a £32 4G SIM-only plan giving 40GB of data, capped at the speed of 60Mbps and without commitment. Of course, EE's 5G plans also give access to "Swappable Benefits," which include time-limited access to certain content. EE should know that without a strong network commitment, customers might be hesitant to pay more.
Importantly, however, 5G could also be positioned as a mass-premium proposition. Looking at other operators across the globe that have launched 5G, we note that Korean operators have also introduced low-denomination tariff plans which can open up the mass market from the outset, and for a good upsell base of content. We know EE has more tricks up their sleeves for the summer and we look forward to learning more lessons. Equally, we know other operators will be upping their game, providing more lessons to EE and the rest of the world.
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