EE is bringing 4G to UK roads – and putting a router in your car, so that you can use it

The car-specific 'Buzzard' 4G dongle package is part one of EE's plan to provide high-speed data on the highways, and to kill dropped calls forever
EE Buzzard 4G router

EE has announced plans to bring consistent 4G coverage to the UK's motorways and A-roads, and has put together a car-oriented 4G W-Fi router package so you can make the most of it. 

'Buzzard' is that package: a bright yellow 4G Wi-Fi router for the car. There's no unique engineering here, though: in reality it's a normal, black Huawei Cat-4 Wi-Fi router dongle in a fancy, cup holder-shaped package that comes with a USB power adaptor.

What's interesting about Buzzard is that it illustrates just how important 4G provision on the road is to EE's current strategy – and how seriously it's trying to win favour with commuters.

4G for the commuters

EE Buzzard 4G router
EE Buzzard 4G router

At today's announcement, EE's CEO Olaf Swantee detailed plans to bring 4G to the UK's main motorways and A-roads, as well as 47 major train stations and 22 of the UK's busiest airports.

But, says Swantee, 4G is the endgame rather than the first step. "What we have found, especially when we talk to big corporate clients, is that they say 'I really like 4G, I can now make phone calls in more places.' It shows the importance of voice, and the importance of no dropped calls."

An EE task force is optimising the 3G coverage of '70 to 80' major UK roads up and down the country, from the M74 that links Glasgow and Edinburgh to the M3 that connects London to the south coast. Its first aim is to ensure contiguous 3G reception, so that dropped calls on the road are consigned to history.

This 3G coverage will then be optimised to provide data at speeds of between 3-4Mbps - far from the 16+Mbps of a fast 4G connection, but still sufficient to watch an iPlayer stream. While some form of 3G coverage is already in place across EE's selected road network, 4G currently covers about 50% of 50 of the roads - and most of that is thanks to overspill from the urban areas those roads pass through.

So, there's still a lot of work to do to hit the task force's target of 75 to 80% 4G coverage of the roads EE has selected by the end of 2014, not least because it will require EE to install infrastructure in areas of low or zero population density - traditionally a challenge to justify.

Time will tell if the network can pull it off, but with services such as Google Earth, Spotify and Rara increasingly built into car dashboards, and talks with car manufacturers already underway, the potential gains for EE are considerable.

4G for the kids

EE Buzzard 4G router
EE Buzzard 4G router

EE isn't just targeting commuters with its 4G on-the-road push, though; drivers will get little benefit from the Buzzard car Wi-Fi router package. Rather, it's aimed at the parents of squabbling teens trying to maintain a vestige of sanity on long journeys.

According to EE's CMO Pippa Dunn, "Generation M (what marketers are calling the generation that has been brought up with mobile devices) are demanding that we allow them access to TV and video on-the-go wherever they are.

"Principally for parents with kids in the back who are squabbling, maybe they're plugged into an iPad and watching a video. The kids I know, their biggest complaint is that they say, 'Well I actually want to be on Facebook' or they want to update Twitter or post a photo to Instagram. The Buzzard is the first in a long line of products we're going to bring into this particular space."

An EE spokesperson told Stuff that future devices will be increasingly car-specific: the Buzzard is more about packaging than technology, designed to get to market quickly, but future devices could include built-in batteries or more elegant power connections. This could get interesting.

READ MORE: At £200, the new EE Eagle is the UK’s cheapest 4G tablet