OMG – it’s 4G!

4G: the next step in the UK mobile network evolution – excellent guest post by James Self.

Unless you’ve been living in a technology-free cocoon chances are that, at some point over the last year, you’ve heard about 4G, Long Term Evolution, or a combination of various other terms with the same meaning: superfast, mobile, broadband…speeds of up to 30 mbps on a handheld device, streaming HD videos straight onto your laptop via a dongle or downloading entire 1Gb+ movies to your phone before you’ve had time to make the popcorn.

The UK’s largest communications company

On 11 September this year, with the announcement from EE (the new 4G-specific brand launched by Everything Everywhere, the company which also runs both Orange UK and T-Mobile UK), 4G LTE finally came to the UK.  The launch has been plagued with a series of delays dating back beyond the start of 2011, primarily due to the length of time needed for Ofcom to decide what should and should not be permitted with the available spectrum, and who should have how much of what without engendering a situation with unfair competition.

What’s that you say?  EE are the only ones offering 4G? Well yes, true story, but it’s not like the other operators haven’t had ample opportunity to start their own balls rolling. Everything Everywhere has invested large volumes of every conceivable resource in order to make this happen (including upwards of £1.5bn), and with all the publicity you’d think that the others might’ve extracted their collective digits – particularly given the eye-opening, massive shot across the bows of their competitors constituted by the successful test in an area of Cornwall in October last year in conjunction with BT, and in Bristol in April 2012. It’s difficult to sympathise with companies whose game plan appears to have been to sit back and wait until it was absolutely essential that they start to spend.

iPhone 5 Everywhere

Vodafone and O2 have, as one might expect, been voicing their displeasure to anyone who’ll listen, even more so since it transpired that Apple would be launching their (4G LTE-enabled) iPhone 5 the day after EE was launched. EE even has a brief mention or two in Apple’s Keynote Speech – putting the Everything Everywhere-run brand in a position where they will essentially be the only operator capable of enabling users to take advantage of the latest technology.

As one tester described it, using an iPhone 5 on a max-3G network would be akin to taking a Ferrari for a test drive in London during rush hour. With all the hype surrounding the latest news and stories of scarcely-believeable speeds, one must bear in mind that, currently, those of us who’re privileged enough to have been able to try out the new tech are essentially taking the aforementioned supercar for a spin on a barely-populated 6-lane motorway. That said, it’s difficult to believe one’s eyes the first time you hold a device streaming a full HD movie and realise that you’re not seeing that all-too-familiar buffering indicator because it’s actually downloading the movie at ten times the speed that you’re watching it in. My personal favourite, however, was the nifty little device that acts as a mobile tether, it’s only role in life being to stay connected to the 4G network and share that connection with up to ten people around you.

It’s not just about time 4G came to the UK, it’s a long way past that. The legal wrangling, threats of litigation delaying the spectrum auction deadlock that has finally been broken have set the UK some distance behind the rest of the world, when we were already suffering with a substandard fixed-line / broadband infrastructure only just beginning to emerge from the ADSL stone age. It’s easier to find places that haven’t beaten the UK to rolling out LTE than the other way around: Japan and South Korea were running tests as far back as 2006! Naturally those ahead include the USA but, given the inventive and innovative potential of the UK in the past, it’s more than slightly surprising (and frustrating) to find Lithuania, Finland, Estonia, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Thailand, India and Azerbaijan among the array of countries who all pipped us to the technological post.

Everything 4G Everywhere is coming…

It’s with a big sigh of relief that we can finally say we’re on our way to having the mobile data coverage that we desperately need.  EE has outlined plans to roll out to 4G LTE and fibre broadband to 16 major cities by the end of 2012, after which their focus will shift to rural areas. We’re a long way from the end of the road, and in all honesty I’m looking forward to the end of 2013 when the likely high initial prices for 4G LTE tariffs (well, they’d be daft not to) will find some semblance of normality when the other networks can compete, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

EE will be able to complete the sale of their 4G-ready spectrum to rival Three any time they please over the course of the next six months or so, and with the other operators not even able to contemplate 4G rollout until mid- to late-2013 and a temporary monopoly on fully-utilising the capabilities of the iPhone5, touted by some as potentially the most popular upgrade in history (pre-orders on both Orange and T-Mobile opened at 8am on 14 Sep), I can see Santa’s little helpers packing a big fat paycheck into EE’s aqua-and-yellow-striped stocking. Yes, Everything Everywhere, you’ve been very, very good this year…

Additional Reading:

New EE Homepage: http://ee.co.uk/

Irritating the bejeezus out of EE competitors – ZDNet

Want an iPhone 5 that works properly?  Your future may be Orange. – Techradar

O2 to appeal Everything Everywhere’s LTE rollout – Mobot.net

Competitors call Everything Everywhere 4G LTE licence unfair – BetaNews

4G Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4G#History_of_4G_and_pre-4G_technologies

Comments

  1. Great post but what download speeds are possible over 4G? All I’ve heard so far is faster than 3G!

  2. First paragraph fella – “….speeds of up to 30mbps…” – plus there’s loads of tech detail listed in the 4G Wiki link at the end 🙂

  3. (If it’s any help, as a comprison that’s roughly ten times the speed of 3G)

    • That said, there have been loads of speed tests done with results far in excess of that. When one considers that those tests are done in an environment where there’s little or no competition for capacity, however, you can pretty much guarantee that the actual user experience in the real world will be not as optimal as advertised – cue operators billing speeds of “up to” [insert digit here]….

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