It was good to see news last week that EE’s 4G cellular data coverage now extends to nine more towns across the UK.
That translates as 4G currently available in 28 towns and cities covering 45 percent of the population, with another 27 towns planned to have 4G by the summer.
The UK’s first mobile operator to offer 4G is on record saying it intends to make its higher-speed mobile data service available to 98 percent of the population by the end of 2014.
4G hasn’t yet arrived where I am, Wokingham, about 40 miles west of London. EE says 4G came to Newbury this week: I was in Maidenhead last week and got a strong 4G signal there, so being in between those two places gives me high expectations that it’s coming my way very soon.
I have a 4G smartphone – a Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE, courtesy of EE and the ambassador programme I’m participating in – so I make the most of its capabilities in that area typically when I’m in London, usually once a week or so.
And usually, 4G is very strong wherever I am, from Hammersmith in the west to Shoreditch in the east.
What 4G means in practice is that I get things done far quicker than if I were doing those things with a 3G connection, the current standard in the UK from every mobile operator. Those ‘things’ include posting photos to Instagram, streaming a video from YouTube or the BBC iPlayer, opening a large file on Dropbox, sending and receiving emails: all the things you might want to do as part of your daily routine, whenever you want to do it.
It also means you don’t think much of what network you’re connected to. And with 3G, there’s such a speed gap between it and wifi but such a gap isn’t that noticeable between 4G and wifi. Take a look at this screenshot from the Galaxy SIII LTE to see what I mean – it shows a sample of some recent speed test results, two on wifi connections with three on 4G:
4G download speeds are great, far faster than what you typically see with 3G – up to five times faster in my experience.
The curious thing, though, is the upload speeds, often much faster than the download speeds (and much faster than wifi upload speeds). I wrote about this before and I’m still a bit puzzled by it.
And the 4G speeds I’ve experienced so far aren’t the best – I’ve heard from some of my fellow EE ambassadors about their experiences with download speeds in London almost twice as fast as what I’ve seen.
Still, I’ll just enjoy the ability to get things done faster, whatever the speed that’s better than 3G!
It’s an interesting overall experience trying out a new service as it rolls out. This is a window of great experimentation opportunity, as 4G will also be available later this year from competing mobile operators. There are signals already of how the competitive landscape might shape up: for instance, Three says there will be no price increase to tariffs when their customers use their 4G service.
Competition – great for businesses and individuals.
While the experience is very good now (hence a great time to run an ambassador program) the science dictates that the more users are on the LTE connection, the more it will slow down. Odds are much of the time you are the only one on the mast right? How do you think this is going to play out when we all have it, when there are dongles, machine-to-machine connections etc all clogging up the bitrate?
That’s a good question, Tim, one no doubt exercising the minds of the good folk at EE every day.
I would imagine a priority of companies like EE is to build their infrastructure in a way that anticipates growth, where it might be and the likely usage demand. Getting it to the right balance is the trick, I guess.
As for being the only one on the mast, as it were, I would doubt that a lot. My use tends to be in different places across London, and on the move. So, for instance, on a bus or an overground DLR train, moving from cell to cell. Nearly always, a good connection. Maybe they don’t yet have the user volumes, I don’t know – EE would really need to answer those points.
Still, a potential issue to be sure if demand by users exceeds capacity. It happens from time to time. I’d expect that to be a big differentiator point when competition heats up.
The other question is: would you pay for the difference in upload/download speed? I’ll be picking up 4G devices later in the year but I genuinely don’t see that much of a benefit (though I’m sure I’ll convince myself that in the world of digital engagement and PR, the quicker you get something uploaded the better – especially from a crisis comms point of view.)
It depends, Craig. EE doesn’t have that pricing/cost distinction, and no one else does either as far as I know. But if someone did, and upload speed, say, was more important to me, and the price was good for, say, 20 gigs worth of bandwidth a month, then I might.
Take a look at what Paul Clarke is doing with this EE programme – he uploads a lot of huge video files from his Galaxy Note II LTE – http://paulclarke.com/photography/
Maybe such a distinction will appear, perhaps along with other pricing differentiators. Huge market opportunity for carriers, seems to me pricing/tariffs evolution inevitable.
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