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back to article 4G: Bad coverage, crap battery life - but at least it's really expensive

Six weeks ago Everything Everywhere EE announced the UK's first 4G network. "A new era dawned over London," Daily Telegraph writer Matt Warman told us. Mourners shuffled into the streets of Leicester and Stoke, and buried an enormous dongle in a mock funeral. That weekend, travelling football supporters from those cities were …

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Non-metroplitan

I'm expecting to be sitting this one out for half a decade. At least.

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Re: Non-metroplitan

Aye. It would be nice to get any signal at all when I visit customers on the Fens.

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Realistic

"Realistic speed of the dual-channel HSPA+ flavour 3G will be about 12Mbps, while realistic speeds of LTE range from 13.8Mbps at 10MHz to 30Mbps 20MHz."

Only if no-one else is connecting to those channels.

This report is really old now, but still valid

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Anonymous Coward

3 for good data? Really?

I'm having trouble believing this. I live in South East London and work in the City, and I've found that over the last 6 months or so, 3's data connectivity has fallen off a cliff. It was fantastic last year, when I got the contract, but that runs out in the next few weeks, and I'll be jumping ship to someone else. It'll cost more, but at least I'll be able to make calls and get data.

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Re: 3 for good data? Really?

If anything it's been getting better over the last few months in my neck of the woods - even in our office, where everyone on Voda and O2 have no signal and mine only has one bar, I still get 1.5meg download. In more normal locations I get 8-10meg easily.

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Re: 3 for good data? Really?

same for O2 north of the river. There's some streets i can't even get any signal on. in 2012. Busy, urban streets, not the moors. poor O2,

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 3 for good data? Really?

You're on a bad operator then?

I did a speed test on my Lumia 800 on GiffGaff (O2), I can download 3.8MB a second. Contrast this with my cable connection at home (100MB) and that does around 13MB a second.

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Re: 3 for good data? Really?

I'll second this.

Fallen off the edge of a cliff, into a massive chasm and then buried under a massive rock fall.

I'd do a speed test, but wait, I've got no network connectivity in the middle of the day, in the middle of London, on my Three mifi.

Three's answer. For the first 4 months off complaining, "We are upgrading our network. Is it fixed yet?". No.

Their response now is, "Well you have downloaded some data, so therefore we won't compensate you. We suggest you find another provider" !!! Yes I may have downloaded some data, but I have only used a fraction of my data allowance and not when I wanted.

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Re: 3 for good data? Really?

"Fallen off the edge of a cliff"

Meaningless without comparison to other operators in the same locations. My adventures with "3" showed a patchy and extremely variable coverage that rapidly got better. O2 and Orange however had slightly less blackholes, slighly less variable rates but rarely beat "3" 4 years ago and haven't much improved since.

Right now "3" arguably have better coverage than O2 and certainly better data speeds. They even have better prices if you eat lots of data and don't want to go down the giffgaff rabbit hole.

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Re: 3 for good data? Really?

Obviously where you are makes a difference, but being in London is going to mean huge demand for data and thus lower average speeds.

But I can honestly say 3 offer by far and away the best service I've used (and I use them all). The speeds are genuinely brilliant - 10 meg is the norm.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 3 for good data? Really?

That's because few people use them as they have a bad reputation generally.

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Re: 3 for good data? Really?

Cost more? If you can stand the daft name GiffGaff does all you can eat data for £15 a month.

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Re: 3 for good data? Really?

3 do all you can eat data for £12.90.

If you want to use mobile data, you don't want to go near O2 (or Giff Gaff which runs on O2) . Obviously you'll get a few people with bad experiences on 3, just like every other network, but overall it's by far the best network for data.

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Meh

Re: 3 for good data? Really?

GiffGaff's unlimited data on a smartphone (no tethering) is £10 at the moment, about to go up to £12 a month. This includes 250 minutes and unlimited texts. If you're price sensitive, and don't mind online-only customer service, it's the deal to go for; I have several family members on it and they've had no problems so far (been about a year I guess).

I've been on 3 and it was a nightmare; poor signal where I needed it, and the customer service was shockingly bad (though I haven't had good customer service from a mobile provider for many years).

But your mileage will vary - this is the thing about mobile phone coverage. It all depends on the signal you have on the network you're on in the places that *you* need it. And that varies with everyone. So it's a moot point and not even worth discussing really. There is no one best provider for everyone.

But this piece was about 4G vs 3G.

I can't understand the need for 4G on a smartphone (assuming you're not tethering). 3G at anything from 1 Mbps to 15 Mbps surely has to be enough to surf the web, facebook and tweet, listen to internet radio, and upload the odd picture you've taken etc?

For home broadband, yes, totally get it, but the backhaul matters even more than the downlink there, and who actually believes that they will be investing in that as quickly (or at all)?

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FAIL

"That's because few people use them as they have a bad reputation generally."

Ahem,

It is a well known fact that 3 carries more data traffic than the other networks, so your post is full of fail! :)

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FAIL

Re: 3 for good data? Really?

I made the mistake of switching to 3 (for stupid reasons due to carphone warehouse and t-mobile being cretins)... and haven't had a worse data network for years. And this is saying some as I had the "pleasure" of using some of the earliest mobile Internet PC-cards and USB dongles.

For family reasons I frequently spend time in Cornwall. 3 and any data coverage down there? Forget it, the useless POS network might have a reasonable voice coverage but as the decided to only supply 3g connections and where not available, back this up with precisely nothing, this leaves a good chunk of the South West of the country in a black hole. Not just these areas either - I'm often about the rest of the country and finding fresh no-Internet zones, usually wherever I'm staying...

I really need to go and slap carphone warehouse for being useless and for 3 providing a service that is not fit for purpose... should be enough to cancel the contract.

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Also sitting this one out

I'm with you, Andrew. I consider myself to be part of the internet revolution. I've recently binned Vodafone due to their inability to service customers in the evening ("I'm sorry, our offices are closed. You can contact us on a webform" <but don't ever expect us to reply>) and an inability to fix dodgy network equipment in my home area. I also resent being sent a text to inform me that I'm near my 500MB data limit, when my data limit is 1GB.

So now, I'm on Three. I haven't yet needed to talk to their customer service, so don't know whether or not they'll deal with me in the evenings. But with their One Plan, I now don't ever have to worry about using up too much data. Their speed is sufficient for me and I took it on with their upgrades to HSPA+ in mind. Like you say, 12Mbps will do on a proven technology.

But here's the really important bit. I'm an iPhone user, I'll freely admit. The way it looks for networks is to find the one that it thinks is best, so Wifi first, 3G followed by Edge followed by GPRS. Frankly, I don't want my phone bothering with anything that's not 3G - I'd rather not bother trying to use the internet without 3G. And as Three doesn't have any non-3G and (with, I understand some rural exceptions) no longer partners with a 2G network as backup, I don't get those frustrating times when the phone switches from 3G to E to O. And back again.

Did I mention that I didn't have to worry about how much data I'm using? And did I mention that battery life on the 3G signal is good enough?

I'll come back to this 4G when it's a bit more mature; maybe by then, I'll have had plenty of use out of my iPhone 4S and will want to upgrade. Maybe by then, I'll have plenty of things that work with whatever proprietary connector my next phone has.

Right now, the poor choice of networks with 4G, the poor choice of equipment that works with a 4G iPhone 5 and the inflated prices with limited data capacity... the odds aren't in 4G's favour.

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Re: Also sitting this one out

And me. I've got a 3 Mifi gizmo on a contract that gives me 15GB pm for about £18, and I've yet to use all of it. I use it for a tablet, sometimes my Kindle, and my O2 phone since the last upgrade, when I switched to a much cheaper contract.. It's all I need for email and web browsing.

I went up north to Stockport by train earlier this week, and apart from a few stretches of open country, I had an excellent connection all the way. We've come a long way in the past few years. When I were nobbut a lad, we had to use two tin cans and some string.

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Re: Also sitting this one out

Can you not tell the iPhone to connect to 3G only.

On my Galaxy Note 2, I have WDCMA only - no attempts to fall back to 2G/GSM and thanks to the excellent speeds on 3, I've never even turned on WiFi on the device.

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Re: Also sitting this one out

I'm on Three, too. I am also in South East London, and I have not had much in the way of network issues recently. They are cheap, and I am happy enough. As for 4G, Three are launching on 1800MHz next September, and maybe on 800MHz before that - depending on what they do at the auction. Depending on cost, I will probably get a 4G phone around then and stay with them. EE are asking too much for it at the moment.

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Life in 2G

If you could get hold of figures for phone sales, you'd be surprised just how many 2G phones are still being sold. I'd quite like to see 3 using some of the 1800MHz spectrum they are getting from EE to roll out GSM.

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Re: Life in 2G

Like that's going to happen. 800MHz LTE will however allow the cell companies to roll it out to rural areas (which wasn't practical for 3G on the 2.1GHz band).

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HPSA+?

Is that 3.5G?

Because my nokia's have been popping up with that icon in most areas for the past 5 years.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: HPSA+?

Mine shows H+ and it is bloody fast, 7-8Mb/s when I do a speed test! which for a mobile is fast enough I think! but the up speeds are fantastic, around 2Mb/s way better than ADSL

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Stop

Re: HPSA+?

Nah, what is colloquially known as "3.5G" is HSDPA. Your Nokia would have been using HSDPA (same with my previous Nokias). HPSA+ is another 3G tech and delivers even faster speeds than HSDPA.

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Stop

Don't forget we're late to the party

The second generation of LTE chipsets are out now, and oddly enough they are MORE battery efficient than 3G chips. The reasoning is simple, they power up, get the data they need and power back down again. They are active for much less time than the equivalent 3G chip so the total power used is lower.

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Megaphone

Re: Don't forget we're late to the party

Nonsense!

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Stop

Re: Don't forget we're late to the party

Take a look at the iPhone 5 battery life benchmarks, it's got a second generation chipset and lasts significantly longer using LTE. See http://www.anandtech.com/show/6330/the-iphone-5-review/13

You'll note that the HTC One X also manages better life under LTE than 3G.

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Re: Don't forget we're late to the party

So they are not usable for voice, or stay powered up all of the time and deplete the battery even faster.

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Not just speed

Huge increases in headline speed are, for the moment, debatable and a bit of a moot point anyway given limited coverage.

I'm far more interested in the promised reduction in latency that 4G is meant to bring. This has the potential to deliver benefit on every single packet/transaction, not just the big downloads, subjectively a far bigger impact to the user.

I'll bide my time. Maybe in 2014.

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What's the point of 4G...

... if it doesn't come in a plan with unlimited or at least a very large data cap? I've read Everything Everywhere's tariffs and they border on being a sick joke. What's the point of being 4G enabled if someone can anhilate an entire month's allowance in a few minutes? Even EE's most expensive tariff at an eyewatering £56 per month only offers 8GB. It's pathetic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What's the point of 4G...

It's about speed of data flow, not how much more you can download (with probably doesn't make sense on a mobile), are you really going to download torrents on your mobile?

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Re: What's the point of 4G...

Simple, they do it because they can.

If I remember rightly, when 3G first came out it did the same thing (to a lesser degree) first came out you had miniscule data allowance (I remember some being as low as 50mb) and higher prices. As 3G matured the prices dropped, and the data allowance rose.

The main reason I'm sitting it out is simply because it isn't in my area. And I doubt it will be for a good few years.

One thing I do wish however, is they'd depricate older technology as newer tech becomes the mainstream. For instance somebody mentioned the number of 2g phones. Why? If they stopped manufacture of 2G phones, and then got rid of the area of the spectrum used up by 2G that could clear up the wireless world for another new service in the future. Of course I wouldn't advocate doing such a thing until 4G has matured a little. A bit like how they're getting rid of analogue TV because digital is now common enough.

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Pint

Re: What's the point of 4G...

"One thing I do wish however, is they'd depricate older technology as newer tech becomes the mainstream. For instance somebody mentioned the number of 2g phones. Why?"

Well they'd have to provide UK-wide 3G support first. I think you'd be surprised at how little coverage there is and how much of the population is dependent on 2G coverage:

http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/mobile/index.html (and change the radio button between 2G and 3G)

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Re: What's the point of 4G...

Well that map explains a lot about my signal around the country, thank you for the link.

The fake H is very infuriating though. Here's a great data signal until you try and use it, then welcome to 2G.

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WTF?

Re: What's the point of 4G...

I saw a segment on TV that said at full rated 4G speed, you'd burn through your basic 500MB data allowance in less than 5 minutes. Even 8GB would only last an hour. And that's your monthly allowance? GMAFB.

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Unhappy

Re: What's the point of 4G...

Wow... That's really terrible.

(Stunned in Sweden)

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RE: Re: What's the point of 4G...

" Well they'd have to provide UK-wide 3G support first. I think you'd be surprised at how little coverage there is and how much of the population is dependent on 2G coverage:

http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/mobile/index.html (and change the radio button between 2G and 3G)"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks for the link but it seems to me that the information shown is a year old. Unless every operator has refused to enhance their 3G coverage in the last 12 months I don't see how this data is valid.

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Stop

Re: What's the point of 4G...

"It's about speed of data flow, not how much more you can download (with probably doesn't make sense on a mobile), are you really going to download torrents on your mobile?"

WRONG. Faster speeds mean more likely to download more. For example, you're unlikely to download HD videos from YouTube on 3G but you are more likely to (because there's little wait for it to download) on 4G.

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Re: What's the point of 4G...

Remind me, how fast can you watch a video or listen to a sound track? I always assumed that you would never really need more speed than the bit rate of the content plus a small buffer, but what do I know. Or is it to consume a very large webpage on a 4" screen. Or is it not about "mobile" at all. Do the Telcos have any idea what will drive 4G (other than marketing and a few "new means better" sheep)?

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Anonymous Coward

Even T-mobile has HSDPA+Dual channel

I managed 20mb download on the current T Mobile network so perhaps it maybe better to stick to 3G for now.

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Unhappy

Re: Even T-mobile has HSDPA+Dual channel

Interesting - I get 5-bar signal from T-Mobile at home (+200Yds from mast) and a blistering 0.04Mb/s down & 0.03Mb/s upstream with 684ms ping times - this with several different devices. I assume they have ISDN back-haul from the tower - don't see 'upgrading' to anything other than a different carrier.

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Totally agree.

EE has made the classic mistake of trying to sell a feature rather than a benefit. There is no killer application for LTE. The key benefit of LTE is more bandwidth and EE isn't even trying to sell that. I generally get about 4 Mbps down 2 Mbps up on 3G and I'm happy with that, and I'm a pretty demanding punter. What matters to most consumers is being able to download decent amounts of data at reasonable cost with good coverage on a cheap phone with good battery life. EE, daft rebranding without owning the .com domain, doesn't hit these requirements. I can't see this 4G-only network idea enabling them to grab market share or increase customer satisfaction and margins, any more than a wholly 3G-only network approach helped Hutchison. And Hutchison thought they had a killer app with video calls. EE doesn't even have that.

I fear EE has gone down a cul-de-sac with this. It only takes one of its competitors to realize that differentiation between 3G and LTE tariffs is not only futile but also counter-productive (i.e. very limited coverage, pisses off existing customers, few phones, damages existing brands and relationships, gives an excuse to reconsider loyalty as 4G more important than existing brand) and where does EE go? Imagine if 3, or one of the other competitors announces "All our customers have 4G. Does your network love you enough?" It doesn't cost them much, as most customers don't have LTE phones and LTE technology can be delivered to alleviate current network overload. Meanwhile, T-Mobile and Orange, overloaded and unloved, lacking LTE contracts, become perceived as budget network and go into a death spiral. But remember, this is where most of EE's customers live. This approach might have been worth the risk for a small player like 3 (though I still don't believe it), but it doesn't make any sense for the biggest player in the market.

This just shows that Olaf Swantee isn't very smart.

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Why no VoLTE?

Wonder why they can't get voice over 4G yet. Because here in the states, where I am on AT&T with my iPad 4G/LTE, seems I can use VoIP apps over LTE just fine. Doesn't sound like I am falling back to 3G/"4G" when I place a call, because there is no lag at all. Whereas even HSPA+ still has dismal upload speeds even when my connection is at 5 bars, such that conversations always get choppy when I am out of LTE range. Huh.

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Re: Why no VoLTE?

You can use VoIP apps fine, as in the US. However VoLTE relates to how the phone handles calls with the inbuilt phone dialler, e.g. the type of calls which show up on your phone bill and which can be billed for (depending on your tariff).

A quick Google suggests AT&T doesn't have a VoLTE service and won't until some stage in 2013.

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Re: Why no VoLTE?

No one in the US (or anywhere else in the world AFAIK) supports VoLTE yet. Not sure what the holdup is, it was supposed to be deployed already but now AT&T says 2013 and Verizon says end of 2013.

The lack of VoLTE is why the iPhone 5 can't do simultaneous voice and data on Verizon's network. Apple didn't have room for the extra antenna and amplifier chips in such a thin phone (look at the teardowns, it is PACKED) but didn't think it would be an issue at all or for very long since VoLTE will allow simultaneous voice/data with just the one antenna. Now that it's delayed so much, iPhone 5 users on Verizon's LTE network will have to endure this limitation when they're away from Wifi.

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Re: Why no VoLTE?

According to this article

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/biz/2012/08/123_116866.html

South Korea is on VoLTE since August.

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Re: Why no VoLTE?

VoIP Apps are Data based they have nothing to do with 4G LTE Directly apart from using the data layer same as if they was using 3G system (HSDPA to DC-HSPA+)

Upload speed is always limited on 3G compared even at higher speeds

VoLTE is an Mobile Operator supported system (or should say unsupported at the moment) so it will replace Switched based voice calling and change it to packet/IP based

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having been using LTE in the US for the last week...

I have just come back from a trip to the US where my colleagues there all have LTE based mifi dongles (Verizon jetpacks).

I just can't wait for a device like that here.

I think the worries about the data caps on EE are entirely valid. They seem very harsh to me, but the other concerns I am less worried about. LTE is far superior to HSPA or even HSPA+, even when you are getting the same bandwidth. Latency is key, and LTE has so much better latency, the perceived performance is much better than 3G. Also, the battery life concerns don't bother me. The jetpacks I was using last week in the US would all last a few hours on decent use, and we would just plug one in when we needed to. They key use for them was to all be able to use our laptops and tablets while on the road, in customer offices (where getting guest wifi can be a nightmare), and in airports.

Dave.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: having been using LTE in the US for the last week...

Just had a look at it Verizon JetPack (prepay).

Weekly Access

250MB for $15 (£9.30)

Monthly Access

3GB for $60 (£37.20)

10GB for $90 (£55.80)

http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/prepay/processPrePayRequest.do?type=ppjetpack

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