EE 4G – My review

EE 4G   My reviewMy thoughts on the 4G LTE technology? Well, to be honest it’s taken be back in time. This is both a good and bad thing, and I’ll explain why.

I’m old enough to remember a time when mobile phones weren’t in everyone’s pocket. My first phone was a Nokia on Orange and the signal, in the early-to-mid ’90’s, was a little patchy at times. In our local pub you had to sit by the window with the aerial extended to get any sort of signal. In-building coverage was a blessing, not a right.


Fast forward to the early “naughties” when video calls and 3G appeared courtesy of Three. The handsets were hilariously bulky, the battery life was laughable and you were lucky to get a 3G signal. Those in the major cities started to enjoy video calling, before quickly realising that seeing a tiny image of yourself in the corner of each call wasn’t an ego-pleasing experience.

Now, after using 4G for a week, I’m transported back to those early months once again. However, I’m also filled with a sense of appreciation for what we already have too.

Coverage, let’s be honest, will take time to develop. Talented engineers and network architects need to do their work. Expensive equipment and extremely fast uplinks need to be purchased. This isn’t like flicking a switch.

Browsing in a 4G area is much quicker. The phone seems more responsive as your mail is sync’d, applications are downloaded, updates are applied and music plays whilst you check for Facebook updates. Speed tests, which we reporters will inevitably include in articles relating to the EE launch, show a marked improvement over any 3G technology.

EE 4G   My review

Yes, there’s a reality check. I’m sitting outside Starbucks in the Bull Ring. I’m probably the only person using the EE network on this mast right now. I’m in a very privileged position and I’m not able to see how the network will cope when my fellow coffee-drinkers are all watching YouTube videos, listening to streaming music and checking their mail.

However, I do know that it’s not in EE’s interests to let their customers get slower speeds than 3G customers. They know this because current 3G providers, especially Three, are promoting DC-HSDPA – a 3G technology designed to boost speeds for existing 3G customers without the need to switch networks.

This is when the memories start fading away, because if I think back to those early days of 3G there was a huge, huge difference between old and new. On 3G you could video call, you could stream YouTube videos and enjoy the internet. On GPRS you’d just give up. It was pointless even trying unless you wanted to get to a specific mobile-optimized page.

EE 4G   My review

Now, for those taking the jump to 4G, there’s some fantastic speeds to enjoy provided you’re in the right place. Let’s be honest, it’s early days. If you choose to switch now you have to be aware that the magical 4G logo will only pop up in certain cities, and EE are honest enough to tell us that. However, even when you do drop out of range you’ll handover to 3G, and that’s by no means bad. You can still browse quickly, watch YouTube and listen to music. It’s not a job-stopper and you won’t have to change the way you use your phone.

However, what did worry me was some of the usage limits. During my review I added a 100MB test file onto the Coolsmartphone server. I downloaded it a few times just to check the speed of the EE network. Again, I have to point out that you guys wouldn’t be doing this. If you did it on your current 3G handset then you’d hit your 500MB or 750MB limit pretty quickly. However, it was scarily easy to blow away a 500MB allowance (available on the most basic EE plan) within seconds.

This is key, and it’s something you need to consider because I believe EE have. They’re more than aware of how much it costs to move data from A to B. I’ve spoken to people who use stacks of data on their phone. Some, using the Three all-you-can eat plans, get through 50-60GB a month. How, I’m not sure, but there are those who require that speed AND usage. Me? I’m just happy with speed. If my phone downloads a web page and updates my Twitter feed at 20Mbps instead of 1Mbps then I will notice a difference.

Let’s look at fibre connections at home. Virgin, BT and many others offer FTTC or “super fast broadband” with BT calling it “Infinity”. If you switch to BT Infinity then, after an engineer has popped around, you could get a connection of up to 40Mbps. There’s an even faster version out now which could give you 80Mbps, but let’s assume you’re getting 20Mbps and let’s assume that you get exactly the same with EE on your shiny new 4G phone. With BT you’ll get either a 10GB or 40GB allowance per month depending on your plan. With EE you’ll get a maximum of 8GB allowed.

Put like that, it doesn’t seem right, but with the fixed fibre connection at home there’s the possibility of several devices pulling data – your tablet, your PC, your laptop, your phone. Several people could be using it. With EE it’s just you and your phone, and their mobile network – for the moment at least – is not meant to replace a home fibre connection, because they sell that separately.

EE 4G   My review

EE have to tread a line….

Do they offer a huge data allowance for an ultra-low monthly cost?

Do this and people could sit at home, cancel their fixed-line broadband and instead use the EE 4G mobile signal. Just imagine it. Chuck your monthly ADSL connection (which could get, say, 8Mbps) in the bin and instead switch to much faster 4G signal as your mobile spits out a WiFi hotspot. The 4G network would quickly get swamped and you’d get a few odd people pulling more bandwidth than several others. It’s not fair, and I’ve mentioned this before.

Do they instead dish out more realistic packages which many normal people would be comfortable with?

This seems to have been the choice here, but EE have received some flack from those who feel that they’ve been given a Ferrari with 500BHP, only to drive it down a country lane. In some respects I agree. Right now, when the marketing push is all about “speed, speed, speed”, you’re going to buy into a 4G EE plan purely so you can download quicker, and many expect to download more.

Imagine you’re on a bus. If you download an MP3 on 3G you might wait for it to download, then browse a few sites, then arrive at work. With 4G, you download the MP3 quickly, so you might download another one, and another one, then arrive at work. Now sure, there’s those who say that you can only consume data at a fixed rate – i.e. you can only listen to the music at a fixed rate, however I have to agree with those who say that a 500MB monthly plan isn’t enough, even for light users.

Coverage

We’ve had contact from Marc Allera, Chief Sales Officer at EE.

This has been a tremendous week, and we are hugely proud to be pioneering the UK’s first 4G mobile and fibre broadband network.

We’ve seen an outstandingly positive response to the EE brand and the introduction of our superfast 4G and fibre services. In line with expectations we’ve already connected thousands of consumers and businesses to our new 4G and Fibre Broadband plans, with fantastic customer interest.

And this is just the start. We’re investing every day to make our 4G coverage stronger and wider. EE engineers are busy increasing 4G coverage by over 2,000 square miles every month, as well as continuing to strengthen our 4G network for customers in EE’s launch cities.

By the time other 4G services launch, possibly in the middle of next year, our customers will already have been enjoying an unrivalled 4G experience on a wide range of exciting devices across the UK for many months.

As I found in the video below, 4G coverage is a little hard to come by right now. Remember those people who signed up to Three in 2003 and 2004? That’s about where we are with 4G right now. In the big cities that have been announced the 4G signal is easy to come by and very enjoyable to have. It’s also great to see EE pushing hard to keep their early 4G lead over their competitors, but you shouldn’t expect that 4G signal everywhere and, for the most part, you’ll be on 3G.

But wait! Do 4G customers on EE get any special treatment when they use 3G? Do they get additional bandwidth “rights”? Do they get a bigger slice of the pie when compared to people buying phones through T-Mobile or Orange?

Short answer? No. Not at all.

So that, my friends, is my week with 4G on EE. They’ve currently got the exclusive on the Nokia Lumia 920 and, when you get a signal, it’s proper quick. Even more so now, when there’s me and a couple of other people using the 4G transmitter just outside Birmingham. Later, when 4G usage ramps up, we’ll have to see how the network does.

If you’re in one of the 4G coverage areas then, if you want your handset to download quicker than it does on most home broadband connections, give it a try. If you want endless amounts of data, be careful though, because you’ll have to pay a lot more per month for a big data allowance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IdlSHI1CMk

Link – EE

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  • Anonymous

    This whole thing really pisses me off. 500MB (or any data allowance counted in ‘megabytes’) is a very stingy data allowance. They are only providing the speedy service in big cities at the moment, and in big cities, data is much much cheaper (wholesale). Surely you’d think they’d want to attract technically aware customers who use their devices in a manner fitting for the service?

    I think these days, we should be talking 5GB as an average data allowance for a smartphone contract. The allowance should reflect the capabilities of the handsets. Selling a 4G handset with 500MB is akin to selling a high performance, big engined car with a 5 Litre fuel tank.

    I do understand the backwards way that this country manages its data infrastructure, as I have exposure to it in my work. However, things really aren’t that bad, and these days the lease on a big data pipe isn’t totally unreasonable, even though BT have so little competition here that the prices here are slower to come down than many parts of the world.

    But really, I think the Mobile Operators have to review their policies, just as 3 seem to have done. Back in 2005, my data allowance was 500MB, and I thought that was pretty crap then. Things have moved on immeasurably since then, in all areas but data allowance.

  • Martin

    Hi Leigh, you need to talk to Ronnie. He seems to think people will not use more data just because it is faster! I know I would (will). The best example I can give is You Tube videos. My fixed line connection at home is quite slow (2meg max) so I never click the 1080 option for you tube videos, I generally keep them at 480. When I am at work I always click the 1080 option cos we have a superfast connection. If I had a 4g connection on my phone / tablet I’d do the same. What is the point in having all that extra speed if you aren’t going to use it. It is a complete waste of money. Orange should have at least doubled the data limits for 4g contracts. 500meg is nothing.
    I have a tesco payg sim in my phone and keep an eye on my data useage so I don’t bust the 500meg limit. I can imagine on 4g I’d be tempted to use data capability of my phone more and would have even more trouble keeping to 500meg.
    Orange just want to rinse more and more money out of you. They never warn you if you are approaching your calls / texts limits, then when the bill comes they just say you should keep an eye on it yourself.
    I can imagine there being a lot of disgruntled 4g users in the coming months, all complaining of massive bills as Orange will not of course send automated texts telling you that the limit is approaching.

    • Anonymous

      Didn’t realise that Orange don’t even text you when you’re near the limit. I’ve been with Vodafone for a while, and get a slightly above average 1GB data limit, but they at least text you when you’re approaching the limit, and then at least offer you the option of turning your data off or buying another 500MB package on top for a tenner. I think this is the responsible approach. Most people have no idea what a Megabyte is, so to expect people to keep an eye on it themselves is a bit rich, especially when it’s not the easiest thing to keep track of yourself.

      If they are going to continue to be tight with the data, they should at least have a flexible data rollover policy (what you don’t use one month, you can use the next). My data usage is fairly sporadic, because most of the time I have Wifi, but when I don’t I use quite a lot of data.

      • Martin

        I’m not sure about the data allowance, my daughter is with Orange and went over her talk allowance, they sent no text and no email (to me, the bill payer) to say she was near or over her allowance. It cost me £100 for the extra cos she thought she was on an unlimited account for the talk, it is only unlimited for the texts. I spoke to the helpdesk to get the account blocked so she couldn’t make any more calls, they said they couldn’t do that. If they blocked it, it would be for everything. they were extremely unhelpful. They basically said it was our responsibility to keep to the limits or pay the extra. The impression I got was there would be no warnings from Orange that a limit was approaching.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, this sounds like very irresponsible behaviour indeed. I have a good mind to write to Ofcom about this, as this is how we get royally screwed. They are obviously keen for us to exceed our limits as they then start charging the out-of-bundle rates for everything, on which they make huge profits. As minutes, texts and data bundles are not easy things to keep track of (i.e. few handsets come with this level of tracking built-in), it strikes me as an underhanded ploy. It also annoys me that you might use well under your allowances one month, but the next if you go over you get screwed. Doesn’t add up in our favour, does it?

          Vodafone and O2 seem much better in this way. They both send texts, and also have apps which allow you to view your usage to date – which leaves you in no doubt about its accuracy (some of the apps which track data etc aren’t always 100% accurate). Another big red mark against Orange if you ask me. Still, they have been shit for years.

  • kris

    EE will send you a text if you are near your data limit with a link to either buy an extra bundle or so you know to only use it on WiFi. This way you will always be aware of your usage. It is after all, your responsibility to keep an eye on it. They are a business, of course they want you to run up out of bundle costs. It earns them more money. But they only charge for what you use. So the ball is in our court. I use the ‘Your Orange’ app, available for free on any smartphone OS.