Poll – Is speed what you want, what you really, really, want?

According to Wikipedia EE have around 28 million customers in the UK. That’s Wikipedia numbers though, so I wanted to be sure about this before I started to write this article. The Q3 2012 financial figures seem to have a slightly different number.. …

EE is the most advanced digital communications company in Britain, providing mobile and fixed line services to 27 million customers, and will soon become the first company in the UK to provide 4G mobile services alongside fixed-line fibre.

There’s a big mix of customers here though. Home users and prepay customers, so I dug further down into the numbers. Unfortunately I couldn’t find out exactly how many customers were on contracts, but luckily some slightly older data from 2011 showed 12.529 million contract customers.

Based on these figures, and the fact that EE mentioned that they were aiming to get one million 4G users by Christmas, they’ll still only have less than 8% of their current contract customer base on 4G if they do hit one million. Also, that’s around 3.7% of the total EE customer base.

Just yesterday EE announced that their 4G network will be getting a significant boost. An increase in spectrum and an even faster speed delivered to their 4G customers.. VROOM!

Why? Well, other networks, armed with dual-channel HSDPA (a 3G technology), have started to deliver speeds which aren’t far off the existing EE 4G speeds. The Three CEO seemed fairly relaxed about the roll-out of 4G and they weren’t in a rush to deliver it. Why? Well, because they have this lovely image showing how the then-4G speeds compared to their DC-HSDPA 3G speeds..

Poll   Is speed what you want, what you really, really, want?

..and this, my friends, was part of the pain that EE 4G was feeling. The 4G side of the EE network, in my opinion, is struggling to sell the technology to people. There’s a few more reasons other than the previous not-totally-significant-speed-improvements though.

First is the cost. People aren’t keen on paying a premium to switch from their existing EE 3G plans to an EE 4G plan. Second is the data allowance. For £36 per month the network which screams “speed, superfast, SPEED, SPEEED” seems to be pushing the unlimited calls and texts instead of a large data allowance…

Poll   Is speed what you want, what you really, really, want?

For £36 per month, which in my eyes is the price-point a lot of people go for, you’re getting 500MB per month to use. It’s like owning a Ferrari. Sure, you’ll beat your neighbours to the supermarket, but you can’t drive it quickly for quite as long as you’d like.

However, whilst I understand that 500MB is suitable for many and is the average consumption for the majority of users, it seems at odds with a network that keeps banging on about “Superfast 4GEE”.

I understand why EE have strapped a turbo to their 4G masts. They will soon be able to say that their 4G, which uses some rather large chunks of spectrum, is better and faster than even the very best 3G network. They can perhaps even say that their 4G is faster than the 4G you’ll receive from other networks. It gives them an edge, a unique selling proposition.

Poll   Is speed what you want, what you really, really, want?


The EE 4G roll-out is still under way. Whilst they have a massive lead on other networks, there’s now a second roll-out as engineers increase speeds for Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield. Speed, speed, speed. It’s a key selling point, but if we assume that you’re standing in the middle of Birmingham and get the new 20Mbps speeds then you’ll not really get to use that speed for long.

Yes, the additional speed will make apps download quicker and you can start playing games a few milliseconds before your 3G friends. Yes, you can grab those MP3’s and listen to them fast, but if you dare to download something chunky from Dropbox or share files, your 500MB will be gone in just over 3 and a bit minutes (20Mbps = 150MB downloaded per minute).

EE though, as I’ve mentioned below, have a difficult line to tread. They know that people will use this ultra-fast network as a quick-fix when they find that a fixed-line fibre / FTTC / ADSL connection isn’t available or is far slower than their 4G mobile.

The network has chosen to get ahead and keep their edge by emphasizing the speed aspect, but I’d love to know … is speed what you want? Or is coverage and a fast-enough speed yout thing?

Our poll

Let us know in the comments section and now via our poll. This poll will also be displayed on the main pages of Coolsmartphone, so you can vote at any time. It’s easy enough, just three questions. Click the “Vote” button after each one…

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  • Martin

    Hi Leigh, I’ve voted in the second two, the first one only allows one selection though, not multiples.

  • Rik

    I’m one who is happy with 3G speed – where it is not capped. I’m one of the unfortunate ones who has been caught by the undisclosed capping on a ‘Full Monty’ – I didn’t care about unlimited calls and texts, and normally I don’t use an excessive amount of data. But, the full monty appealed because when I did need to use data, there would be no fear of going over or running out. What I did not know was that I would then have capped 3G – and thus get 1/3rd of the speed I was receiving before the upgrade.

  • Andy Fielder

    It would be nice to get decent coverage in Devon/Somerset. Went with O2 at last upgrade because general coverage is better…data in Cullompton is pants though. At home, phones would swap masts from one end of our (small) bungalow to the other with data speeds varying accordingly.

    I would much rather have better coverage – at minimum ‘E’ – in Cullompton (next to the M5) than super-mega-awesome-quick standing in the middle of Bristol!

    • Anonymous

      I sympathise with you folks outside of the cities. Whilst I’m not too far from London, I’m far enough away that I don’t get 4G in my area. Not that I’d use it at home anyway, as I have decent broadband. For that matter, usually when I’m in London, I don’t need particularly fast data, I just need some data. I’ve found that contention is usually so bad in London that it’s fairly slow and unresponsive when you most need it.

      I don’t see 4G improving on this particularly (maybe it does at the moment). Thing is, when you’re in a restaurant, a hotel, a coffee shop or an office in London, chances are you have Wifi anyway.

      Better data coverage in-between cities would benefit most people, I think. I’ve certainly noticed that as these phone companies have merged (like Voda & O2 are going to do soon, I believe), they decommission masts, and coverage becomes more patchy out in the sticks. That’s certainly what appears to have happened on EE.

      • Martin

        I have the same problem, but with the added issue that I am out in the sticks and only get ~2.5 meg on my ADSL. I was going to say 3g is pretty much non-existant indoors, but………..I’ve just done a speedtest and got a massively impressive (well to me anyways) 2143 down and 1275 up. The last time I did a speedtest I got a whopping 160k down! Just gone to the front of the house (my home office is at the back) and got 4467 down and 1593 up. Wowsers, I must admit I didn’t bother checking my speed since I moved from O2 to Virgin. Looks like there must be an EE tower near to me.

        • Anonymous

          That’s pretty impressive – if my calculations are correct (they are probably not :D), that speed, assuming it’s fairly constant would give you a decent enough experience streaming most types of video, even up to HD quality.

          So, if you can stream HD video over 3G with 4Mbit/s, what real benefit would having 4G be? Sure, maybe you could upload YouTube clips faster (I do not do that), sync photos a bit quicker, but it wouldn’t make a huge difference to you.

          Apps generally aren’t that big unless it’s a big title game, and if it is, you’d easily munch through 500MB. One of my guilty pleasures is the Grand Theft Auto series, which are around 600MB – job for wifi methinks. I can’t really think of too much else which would benefit from high bandwidth.

          I think all these examples show quite how ridiculous EE’s data plans are. They are stuck in the year 2007!

          Another side note – you got me speed testing. Where I live (and it appears to vary wildly each time I run the test), I seem to be able to get anything from about 1100Kb/s, right up to 10163Kb/s down, and up to 7000Kb/s up on Vodafone. Haven’t tried on O2 yet, but I will… Again, assuming that the differing results I’m getting is more to do with SpeedTest.net than my connection, it’s well good enough to do most of the things I need to do on the go. What I really want is a more consistent connection throughout the country.

          • I live in Chippenham, Wiltshire and I have a non-fibre BT broadband at home and a Three AYCE SIM that picks up HSDPA in my house. Here are my results:

            7178 down 850 up
            7921 down 2311 up

            Pretty impressed, to be honest, and I really don’t need any more than those speeds, so you can keep your 4G Mr. EE!

          • Martin

            Nice speeds Ronnie and the Prof. I’m tempted to get an unlimited Virgin Sim, a MiFi and get shot of my landline. The thought of it scares me! We very, very rarely use the landline anymore, it is purely here for ADSL, if I can get higher broadband speeds via 3G, why keep it? Hmmmm, a quandry me thinks.

  • Eric

    Customer service is also important for me, I left Orange many years ago as it was awful and
    moved to o2 and been fine since.
    I wife left t-mobile last year for 3 as she didn’t want to deal with the t-mobile CS anymore.
    I know I only need to call them once or twice a year but it is nice when you do have to that that part of my mobile relationship is best possible.

    Also astounds me that people move to the EE 4G service and select the 500mb data allowance, really…. what is the point?

    On side note, is LTE+ compatible with the generation of 4G phones out now?

    • Rik

      I agree with you about customer service. I left Orange because of it, and went to T-Mobile and until the recent changes it was excellent – but since the EE / Orange / T-Mobile thing – its shocking! I called yesterday, and spent an hour going around in circles with crackly faint line, SA accents, and staff who just did not have any answers and were just following scripts. The end result – got nowhere, but perhaps that’s the idea?

  • Anonymous

    I want data and real internet, ee’s lte service is natted an proxied to hell.Onlive dont work because of there setup (Every site you goto the public ip address you appear to be coming from changes.

  • Anonymous

    I commented on this subject yesterday. I find the fact that you can pay £36 per month and only get 500MB insulting, frankly, especially when you can burn through this in a couple of minutes at the fastest current 4G speeds.

    What’s 500MB? One standard definition film, at high compression? It’s a few tunes, a few hours of audio streaming at best.

    But, if 3G speeds on other networks are even half as fast as this, I’m sure it wouldn’t matter to most, as you’ll still be able to stream video at a reasonable rate.

    I think it’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. If people knew that they wouldn’t exceed their allowance, they’d be using their data quite differently. I’m sure the 3 network have a very different story as far as what they deem an ‘average’ monthly use to be.

    I used to get a 500MB allowance almost 8 years ago with the first Internet enabled 3G phones, and I had a maximum download rate of 384Kb/s. That, I could understand a bit more!

    I think it’s time these companies updated their attitude, especially seeing as most devices these days will easily burn through 500MB a month without you even touching them!

    • Martin

      Well said. 500meg for me is just enough, but all I use mine for is checking train times, tube status, the odd bit of twitter and emails. I don’t use any of my allowance for streaming music or videos it would just get used too quickly.

      Insulting is the right word. Why have 4g, or even the high speed 3g if you can’t use it? EE are Baconing the service by touting the speeds as being great for watching movies, for online gaming. Why watch a SD film when you can watch the HD version because you have the speed. A 1.5 hour 720p takes up about 800meg so you can use all of your allowance and have a lovely large bill on day one of your month.

      The minimum for a 4g or high speed 3g service should be 2gig, 5 gig would be my preference.

      My daughter has a 750meg allowance on her account and has to really keep an eye on it as she like to watch youtube vids. She breached it unknowingly one month by 400meg, luckily that only cost an extra tenner, now she is extra careful.
      If she had a 4g phone she would want to use the extra speed to HD up those videos and would really need a 5gig allowance. The caveat to that is there is no 4g down here yet.

      • Anonymous

        Yup, absolutely. They sell it on the telly with Mr. Bacon saying you can use it for all the sort of stuff which would eat through their allowances in very little time.

        On a side-note, my data usage for last month was 194MB. Seems low, no? This is mainly because I’ve been mostly house bound due to breaking my foot, hence been almost permanently on the Wifi. Now, I’ve left the house a few times (not too many), and used my phone for mainly browsing, although I listened to a Podcast in the car too… and still I’ve got through 194MB! Makes you think really… I do realise I’m maybe not in touch with the realities of the ‘normal’ person, but if it’s this easy to get through 200MB with just a few days use, I wonder how most people keep their data so low!

  • Results so far show that mobile networks should concentrate on the basics – COVERAGE at quit the C**P when they say they have 95% + coverage. In Northern Ireland they can’t even get 2G coverage sorted never mind 3G, 4G, etc…

    • Paul

      I’m with you there. I live on the South Coast (West Sussex) and I rarely get a 3G signal so I couldn’t care less about 4G as I know we won’t get coverage down here anyway.
      Why not try to get 100% 3G coverage first, and then move onto expanding to 4G

    • Paul

      …and that’s with Vodafone, O2, Tesco and EE

  • VinDon

    Its not 4G that s needed, just 3G that works and batteries that last.
    Now the 3G is what the telcoms need to work on and batteries is for the manufacturers.

    Point in practice, was in Aviemore last year for a few days, loads of young people, many probably have smartphones and the phone signal was G, not 3G but a single G, the speeds were abysmal almost unusable. It was like going back to when I had my SPV Windows mobile.

  • ColinP

    should have been an extra question asking if your are on 4g or 3g already
    personaly id go back to 3g and haev more data if i could :(

  • Cammycurly

    I’m an EE customer in Glasgow and I’ve noticed a significant drop in coverage of 3G and HSDPA since the launch of 4G.

  • SJ

    Using a Lumia 900 on Three, I have peeked at 21 Mbps, 3 times faster than home broadband. Usual speeds are roughly 12 to 14Mbps. Unlimited data/tethering means this is a viable alternative (indeed, a preference) to landline. It may help that I live in a small town with a big mast nearby! Just hope more users don’t switch to the service where I live. 4G and EE is completely irrelevant to me.

  • The boy Ben

    Data and mobile networks is like ADSL and landline was a while ago. Lots of big bundles of minutes/free calls but data volumes limited. The landline CSPs (mainly BT) were worried about becoming the ‘dumb pipe’ along which other services were provided. BT and other CSPs now seem to have overcome that worry and are providing a better and more useful service. The mobile CSPs appear to be going through the same process now. They don’t want to be a dumb pipe, so continue to try to add value to services (O2’s ‘Tu’ anyone…?) rather than just giving the pipe along which a user can do what they wish. Plus data isn’t as valuable to them as minutes and texts… Three seem to have realised that a pipe along which to put data is what many people want; as someone said earlier, I’m sure the ‘average user’ on the One Plan uses significantly more data than what EE claim the ‘average’ user uses. If you give someone a gig of data and charge a lot to go over it, it is unsurprising that people don’t go over and therefore have an average of just under a gig (or whatever figure they quote…)