back to article 4G in the UK? Why the smart money still says 'Meh'

Last September, when the UK's first 4G service emerged, I promised to sit out the switch to high-speed mobile broadband for as long as possible. What I didn't expect was the mobile industry joining me on the sidelines. Budge up, please - it's getting a bit crowded here. It would not be fair to say the UK mobile industry is …

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Don't believe the hype...

I agree with this article, I'm not really interested in 4G as I have wifi everywhere I need and a solid 3G signal. I am certainly not going to go out of my way to get it.

I imagine there are only the people who have to have the latest and greatest who have signed up for this as EE's offering is just not near anything resembling value for money. Perhaps EE strategy on this is purposeful, get a few motivated people on it and use them for "testing" as they will be motivated enough to complain to get the bugs out, or even that the infrastructure couldn't cope with a large take up (more likely).

As for everyone else, it just appears that no one wants to break cover until they can see the benefit and with the debts Vodafone and Telefonica are holding I assume they are very reluctant to invest.

The mobile industry needs a shake up sometimes, im my opinion the last two were the Flext tariff from T-mobile and Iphone, I dont think 4G is the next one.

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Re: Don't believe the hype...

also agree with the article, but don't agree that I'm currently fully happy with 3G.

Whilst H+ is fantastic and has got good coverage, the coverage on a train is just s**t which is where I personally need 3G coverage the most.

How hard is it to string a cable along the overhead wires pumping out a 3G signal across all railway networks?

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Pint

Happy with HSPA, just want 100% coverage

As title, don't want a new handset, happy with the speeds I can get, coverage isn't good enough.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Happy with HSPA, just want 100% coverage

4G actually saves operators money since it can fit more traffic in a similar amount of radio spectrum.

The mistake the operators have made is not just giving people 4G as a free upgrade.

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Re: Happy with HSPA, just want 100% coverage

Weren't there problems with the LTE band in the UK interfering with Freeview?

Also, I heard LTE devices drained the battery faster - and I assume this is so, because now the device needs 3 goddamn radios in effect, GSM, UMTS/HSPA and LTE. Correct me on this if I'm wrong.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Happy with HSPA, just want 100% coverage

Not if they go VoLTE like a few telcos are doing.

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Dobre

Sort of agree as far as UK goes.

4G at low cost - no-cost seems fine.

4G at high cost can only be super elitist probably appealing to those high earners directly paid for by the state

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Anonymous Coward

"........high earners directly paid for by the state"

Nice assumption. Completely wrong.

Local government bodies are cutting back on everything. If someone wants 4G they will have to produce a business case to justify the spend over 3G.

You need to rethink your thinking on "state" spending in this age of Tory austerity. Don't blindly believe what you read, like a religious nutcase.

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4G/3G

"Once you've got 4G, there's something a little miraculous seeing web pages rolling into your mobile faster than they do at home over Wi-Fi."

Speedtest on my 3G phone at work shows 9Mb down, and about 1.5mb. That's about twice as fast down as my home wifi, and three times faster up. Faster is always better, but to be honest either of those two are fine for anything I personally want to do on a phone, so I won't pay more for 4G at the moment.

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HMB

Re: 4G/3G

Talking solely about bandwidth is an oversimplification. LTE latency is supposed to be improved over HSPA too. I think the decreased latency will offer some of the nicest improvements myself, but I'm waiting till 3 roll it out on their network.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 4G/3G

Speed is one thing, latency is another. If there's a 300ms delay with each request then the page loading faster will be unnoticeable compared to a slower connection with 20ms delay.

Increased throughput is great for predictable traffic like downloads, but unpredictable requests like the web are different as you never know what someone is going to do next. So latency is what needs to come down.

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@Tony Chandler Re: 4G/3G

Similar here.

Speedtest,net just showed my three "mi-fi" giving me 9.73Mbs down, and 2.67Mbs up. Although 'down' is not as fast as I get at home (16Mbs) it's more than good enough.

http://www.speedtest.net/result/2526453324.png

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Re: 4G/3G

That is incredibly slow my home wifi can get about 10/11MB/s

(Virgin either 100Mb or 120Mb connection not sure I have the seperate cable modem not a superhub as an early adopter).

My Xoom can easily get 6MB/s

My phone gets less. But still probably 24Mb/s (3MB/s) over wifi.

HSDPA is far worse even on 3 which is the best service where I am located.

Not tried 4G but I expect with a 4G phone the wifi chip would also be better quality so I would likely still get better speeds on wifi.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 4G/3G

My record is 13.13Mbps down 2.86Mbps up, 70ms ping with SGS3 on T-Mobile.

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Re: 4G/3G

Speed test at home at 4am in the small town of Skegness.

Sky broadband: 2.8 meg.

Three mobile: 13.2 meg.

Being on the One Plan, I'm not even sure why I'm having the Sky bundle as tethering is what I do often anyway.

Time for a change, me thinks.

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Killer App suggestion

"Once you've got 4G, there's something a little miraculous seeing web pages rolling into your mobile faster than they do at home over Wi-Fi."

Speaking as a non technical chap, is it possible that 4G could be used to get high speed Internet to dwellings, using mains-powered routers (kills the battery problem) etc. Could such routers be used as repeaters to propagate the signal?

I can only assume that if the coverage is as crap as you make out, the infrastructure cost would make it even more prohibitively expensive.

My line of thinking was that if viable, it actually gives a bit of competition to the BT/Openreach pseudo-monopoly on getting fiber out to places ("we'll do it when we want to and charge you what we like..." and "oh, sorry that's 10 feet too far from the cabinet. Clear off").

My point is - maybe it's not a mobile technology at all, but a wireless fixed one.

I'm sure it's a lot more complicated/expensive/not viable than I would think

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Meh

Re: Killer App suggestion

That would make a lot of sense, and open up the opportunity of "mobile" companies eating the lunch of the fixed line providers - potentially they could double their income per subscriber, by providing a full on domestic service including voice and broadband. With a proper domestic transceiver even relatively weak signals might not be a problem.

I'm surprised that the "mobile" companies haven't thought of that, but they seem resolutely stuck in the mindset of providing mobile phones, rather than providing telecommunications. The rip off mobile charges wouldn't be acceptable in competition to fixed lines, and the mobile companies might not want to risk the generous gross margins that mobiles deliver, but I'd have thought they could differentiate the pricing. The other issue is whether they have sufficient transmitter capacity for fixed line equivalent services, after which arises the possibility of backhaul capacity limits.

Like you, I doubt it is insurmountable, but the lack of commercial ambition and reluctance to invest is palpable, and the bungling thieves of government have made that worse by exacting a £2.3bn tax for 4G that ultimately will be paid by subscribers, but which won't be invested in telecoms.

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Happy

Re: Killer App suggestion

That is how I use mine from EE. I live in London but never bothered getting a land line. All I need to do now is set my Lumia to 'Internet Sharing' and I have a router providing what I consider to be very fast WiFi for my home.

I agree that the data cap is something that I have to bear in mind, but I am not currently a big downloader of films and the like so presently I manage fine.

As a result I may be the only person on 4G who is happy and content!

Pauly

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Already done

As far as I know this has been the case in the Republic of Ireland for at least two years. A friend of mine use to be subscribed to a 4G LTE provider there - using a fixed router (supplied and fitted by the provider themselves). Unfortunately - at least at the time - the real-life speeds were pathetic and it kept on disconnecting and giving problems. So in theory, doable. In practice, without decent coverage and network capacity - not so much.

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Go

Re: Killer App suggestion

Fixed wireless is very likely the reason BT got in on the bidding for the 2.6Ghz band. The wise money is on them using it to supplement their fibre to the cabinet broadband rollout.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Killer App suggestion

A mate did that, after moving into a new flat and having to wait a couple of weeks for a Virgin technician to turn up... he had held onto his original unlimited Orange tariff that came with his iPhone 3G (long since jail-broken) so after it was set a WiFi hotspot we were happily watching streaming video on his PS3.

(It doesn't matter which handset he did this with, but that unlimited tariff was the one Orange used to punt the iPhone back in the day, and had long since ceased to offer it to new subscribers)

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Re: Killer App suggestion

Isn't that what everyone does when moving and waitin for adsl? I used giffgaff, real unlimited data for £12 a month. With HSPA+ you can stream video if you want.

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Timely response

Looks like Qualcomm heard you loud and clear

http://www.engadget.com/2013/02/22/qualcomm-first-global-lte-chip/

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Pricing, Pricing, Pricing

I do not know anyone who would be willing to pay more for 4g than they currently do for 3g, so until the price differential comes down I do not think there will be many takers. Also data limits are a massive problem the faster a connection gets, the current 3g tariffs are fine for downloading emails, web browsing and perhaps the odd piece of music, but for doing the kind of things that 4g is DESIGNED for like streaming high quality video, data limits will need to increase dramatically for people to take it up. I think the networks have cottoned on to this by bidding so low for 4g spectrum vs the ridiculous 22 Billion that was bid for 3g a few years ago.

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Re: Pricing, Pricing, Pricing

Three offer inexpensive tariffs with unlimited data now, and they have said that people will be able to use LTE with their existing tariffs when they offer it. That all sounds good to me.

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Re: Pricing, Pricing, Pricing

Sounds great but I have heard some pretty bad reviews from friends about 3 having really bad reception outside of the big metropolitan areas. It worries me that they purchased the least amount of bandwidth out of all the networks during the auction. I'm currently with Virgin Mobile, but they are basically a virtual operator so they use EE's infrastructure.

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Re: Pricing, Pricing, Pricing

Part of that is due to the fact that their present network is at 2.1GHz, which is high frequency and does not carry as far as do lower frequency signals. After the recent auction they do now have spectrum at 800MHz that does not have this problem, and their LTE network should therefore have better coverage than their present 3G network. We will of course see what actually happens, but there is at least a good technical reason why things should improve.

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Holmes

Hi-Speed, Slowly

4G is currently a status symbol for someone with more money than sense. These are the people targeted by EE's tarriffs. And yes, they're spending 10% more than 3G users, though the network was probably hoping for rather more than this.

There is NO point to 4G, unless you use data in sufficiently large chunks that you currently have to wait for it to download. If this is the case, you are probably downloading sufficient data that EE's current tarriffs are a joke and the cost of 4G is prohibitive. Consequently you will be using some other data aquisition method, such as WiFi, or you take your time over 3G.

When sensible tarriffs emerge with competition, these heavy users will transition to 4G, and new data heavy uses will emerge, which will increase the uptake of 4G.

Remember that initially, 3G data was virtually unused until the iPhone made data usage simple for non-technical users. 4G will flourish, but not overnight.

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Stop

Re: Hi-Speed, Slowly

3G in busy city centres is unusabley slow. Web pages either time-out or take minutes to load. There's a limited amount of bandwidth to share around and many people competing for it. In these circumstances LTE is a perfectly rational (if somewhat expensive) choice. You don't need to be dealing in large chunks of data for it to become worth while and most users would be hard pushed to get though more than a couple of gig per month of mobile data.

BTW, the iPhone was a 2.5G device to start with don't forget.

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Once you've got 4G, there's something a little miraculous seeing web pages rolling into your mobile faster than they do at home over Wi-Fi. But at £61 per month for 20GB of data, that's a luxury few people appear to want or can afford. The tariffs succeeded in generating next-day headlines such as "get 4G for only a fiver more than the cost of 3G". But as soon as people saw the small print - and realised they'd bust their data allowance in a few minutes, the die was cast.

We are all aware of what happened and what continues to happen with 3G, you cannot get coverage and when you do the network is not built to handle the amount of people trying to use it so you do not get the speeds you are paying for. The data bundles cost a fortune and all that leads to people using Wi-Fi as often as they can and 3G when they cannot. But of course when you can't get Wi-Fi it is most likely that you cannot get 3G either.

All these 98% coverage articles I have seen I also do not believe will happen soon if ever and if they do it will again be masts that cannot handle the load (to keep costs down) and your still stuck with silly data limits.

To me mobile operators are like 2nd hand car salesmen. Once they have your money they no longer care. All contracts are usually in favour of the seller and because they are all doing the same thing (no competition at all in this space that I have ever seen) you have no choice but to accept the contract or not use a mobile phone.

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Busting your data allowance in minutes

While I agree with the general gist of this article, I can't stand the continued trolling of the old "but with 4G you'd use your data allowance within minutes!" line - what is it with this assumption that on 3G you use data when you have to, bit by bit, but as soon as you have a 4G connection, whoa, I'm gonna go off and download the whole internet to my handset in minutes...

Erm, no. Sure, if the extra speed (but let's face it, it's not revolutionary speeds compared to what the best 3G connections can manage) means you want to start running bittorrent over your mobile connection, or downloading Linux distributions to your handset, then you're gonna have the same problem you did on 3G, you'll just hit those problems just quicker.

The point of 4G (and I'm not a massive fan, having just signed up to another 18 month 3G plan, but I'd have it for free, thanks) is that you can do what you did before, but quicker. You use a gig or two a month currently? You'll use a gig or two on 4G, maybe a touch more because you can work quicker, but everything will happen quicker*.

* Supposedly it'll happen quicker, though I maintain for most things we do on mobiles/tablets, will we really notice that 0.2 second page load improvement?

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Re: Busting your data allowance in minutes

You;'ll actually end up using more data in general when given a fatter pipe to use on the device - you'll be more likely to watch videos as they are less likely to stutter... You may even end up watching (gasp) HD content which requires a higher bitrate

Not massively more, but a little bit.

Still, I find that 250MB/mo is just about all I can use in a month - even allowing for app upgrades over 3G rather than WiFi. It also took me up until last year to upgrade from my old GSM-only phone (a Motorola PEBL) to a SamGalNex phone - I appreciate that I'm not the target market for LTE service, though :)

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Re: Busting your data allowance in minutes

250 GB / month sounds much the same as my use... a few times a week I will use it to stream an hour long 25MB podcast, to keep me company as I walk to the pub or drive to the next city, plus a bit of browsing here and there, sometimes some maps... If I were more organised, I would download them via WiFi before leaving the house.

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Re: Busting your data allowance in minutes

I've been on 4G since launch and have been tracking my usage - it hasn't gone up. Without going into details I reckon I'm a pretty average user of data. The phone just feels quicker.

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Happy

Re: Busting your data allowance in minutes

> 250 GB / month

Impressive!!!

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3g is good enough

As above. Im more than happy to wait the extra 2 seconds for a webpage to arrive. and so is the great majortiy of the population. This isnt like the massive difference between 2g and 3g, so untill its cheaper i dont think many will upgrade.

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Unhappy

Bad coverage, crap battery life - but at least it's really expensive

So just like when 3g came out really.

Back then I heard of one fellow who got 2 handsets so he could demonstrate this new fangled video calling.

The UK 3G auction was apparently planed with lots of theory to structure it and was a triumph of the Broon Treasury. IE It got the govt a lot of money.

Perhaps the Osborne team should have factored in the companies were on a learning curve and no one wants to look like they over paid for a huge asset twice

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Anonymous Coward

Greed?

Nobody sems to have used this word in the article and comments, as far as EE is concerned.

Perhaps they seem to be under the illusiosn that Britain is still to be ripped off.

Ironically, those days are numbered with people becomng more aware due to the very power of the internet that they are trying to flog!

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Rob

Nail on the head...

... with this article, I think it sums up what most mobile tariff/industry folk are thinking, me included.

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Anonymous Coward

you're sitting it out WE are sitting it out :)

until EE comes back from their cuckoo-land and until the economic conditions improve. Then - MAYBE.

If they do "something" about indoor reception and battery life. MAYBE.

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Meh

Need better 3G service first

In my town, with a nearly full 3G service, I'm lucky if anything will download at a reasonable speed.

It's so bad here that 3G mostly stays off on the mobile phones in and around the office, constant call drops and rubbish bandwidth make it virtually useless. I get better bandwidth on Edge.

3G might be wonderful for city folk, but any where else it's pretty naff.

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Re: Need better 3G service first

Not to trivialise the lack of 3G where you are, but it's far from being just for city folk - I usually get 8-10Mbits down at home, indoors in a small town, and on my travels around the country I've only found two places where I can't get 3G at all - and everywhere I have a signal, I have reasonable bandwidth.

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Re: Need better 3G service first

I agree with GregC - I get around 4-6 MB/s down and a quarter of that up nearly everywhere round here (rural Warwickshire) minus a few holes. In fact, 3's data service is better than their voice in my experience - quite often I've dropped a call to resume it on Skype!

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Re: Need better 3G service first

That's ok, I understand that I live in the South West and there are certain sacrifices you have to make for a better lifestyle (IMO!), connectivity being one of them!

Even with a good 3G connection here, speeds are around 1-3MB download and 0.25-1MB upload. That's if you get any data at all, even with nearly full signals connections just crap out most of the time.

This is with Vodafone, the only network around here where you can at least get a signal most places. With most other providers, you'd be lucky to get any signal at all :-)

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Re: Need better 3G service first

It would be nice if they sorted out 2.5g while their at it. Out here in the sticks there is 1-2 bar gprs outside, nothing-1 inside. The signal strength fluctuates wildly as well, sometimes disappearing for hours.

This is whatever network you choose (apart from 3, that just doesnt work anywhere around here).

Out and about, there are huge areas with no coverage at all, were talking km`s here, not the odd patchy bit.

Local town has 3g, but its so oversubscribed i dont notice the difference between 3g and edge tbh.

Using gprs to browse is beyond painful, more often than not the bloody page times out or it takes so long that you just say `fuck it` and give up.

Chances of me enjoying 4g anytime soon=0 i fear.

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FAIL

Why 4G?

The other day I saw a chap from EE on the One O'Clock News on BBC1 talking about 4G. He said it was needed because you couldn't watch a TV programme using 3G. This was interesting and probably would have had considerably more impact had I not been watching him on my iPhone... over 3G!

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Re: Why 4G?

Well the main reason is really capacity. We are at the limit of what data can be squeezed in the bandwidth available in densely populated areas, as anyone who uses a 3G phone in central London will know. We need more bandwidth, but importantly we need to use it efficiently, and LTE is much more efficient than 3G.

Still, that's a hard sell for higher prices: "a data connection that actually works!"

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Re: Why 4G?

And funny since they originally advertised 3G as allowing you to watch TV on your phone.

I was amused at the time and wondered why anyone would want to watch TV on a mobile and no one really did. Now I'm amused again at Kevin Bacon telling me I should get 4G so I can watch a movie on my mobile. Why the hell would I want to do that? Movies were designed for huge screens with great sound systems, not 4" ones with tinny little speakers. He seems to think watching a movie while walking home is a great idea but if you tried it you'd stand a good chance of getting run over crossing a road without looking.

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Anonymous Coward

..not all about speed

everyone seems fixated on the speed - thats not the complete point.

100% packet swtched means latency is going to improve.

different spectrum usage means that coverage is going to be improved - 4G is going to deliver

decent broadband to the rural areas that are prohibitively expense to run fibre to.

yes, its not here from day 1....and the 'elite' price charged by EE doesnt help the image. when '3' et al come aboard with ;same price as 3G' contracts expect to see things shake up for the better.

most people dont NEED more than 20-odd Mb/s to do stuff on their phone/tablet/laptop. streaming HD MP4 is around 4Mbit , audio is around 256kbit, most web pages are around 200kbit so hardly matter.

lets forget about SPEED SPEED SPEED (the WRONG message they chose to use) granted, better upload speed is always welcome and then going to > 1mbit will really help - lets look at better conditions in congested areas, better latency and (when its rolled out overwhere at 800MHz) better coverage.

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Coverage is far more important than extreme speed

As others have said, for me coverage is far more important than speed. I find for most things I want to do - e-mail, casual on-the-move web browsing, apps that access data online, 3G performance is good enough. Even if I wanted to stream movies to my phone (unlikely) a reasonable 3G connection would be enough. Yes, faster is always nice but really not that important to me.

However, if you live, work or travel outside a major city, the coverage for 3G is still not good enough. And I'm not talking about remote parts of the country - I'm talking heavily populated areas of the southeast. I wish the networks would focus on this rather than increasing speed in a few priveleged places.

And while they're at it, perhaps they would fill in all the gaps in ordinary GSM phone coverage. By now, all the networks ought to be providing 100% coverage in every town, village, rail-line and main road (at least A-roads and motorways) in the entire country.

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