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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Link – EE