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4G isn't worth the price yet

Column High prices and disappointing speeds leave me feeling blue
Fri Nov 16 2012, 13:15

LAST MONTH mobile operator EE switched on the first 4G services in the UK, a move that was met with a lot of hype, excitement and a glitzy launch event here in London.

I'm not convinced, though.

I was at EE's long-awaited 4G announcement back in September, where the newly rebranded mobile operator formerly known as Everything Everywhere boasted that its then upcoming LTE network would offer "the quickest speeds" in the UK that "no [other] UK operator can match", and gave me the opportunity to test it.

Although in theory LTE should be able to offer speeds of up to 100Mbit/s, I was impressed with the 36Mbit/s download speeds that I saw on EE's HTC One XL demo unit. I was a bit disappointed by the network's ridiculously expensive pricing, but with the promise of speeds like those I was excited about 4G LTE.

That feeling didn't last long, though. Last week, I got my mitts on the HTC One XL again, and was giddy at the prospect of wowing my mates with these super-fast speeds. However, when I put the phone to the test I was barely able to reach speeds of 17Mbit/s - less than half those EE had boasted about just two months before.

This still sounds fast, but it fails to match EE's promise that these are speeds "no [other] UK operator can match" and are five times faster than a 3G connection. I had good reason to still be disappointed.

I ran an identical speed test with my 3G Iphone 5 on Vodafone's network, and was greeted with speeds of almost 10Mbit/s - just 6Mbit/s shy of the speeds I was seeing on my 4G handset. What's more, I got my mitts on a DC-HSDPA from Three this week, which managed to reach speeds of 12Mbit/s.

Admittedly, 4G is still in its infancy here in Blighty, but I can't see any reason to justify spending an additional £20 per month on a phone contract for an additonal 4Mbit/s download speeds. Of course not everybody will be lucky enough to get such fast speeds on a 3G DC-HSDPA phone, but those that can't probably live in an area where 4G isn't available anyway.

I met with Three CEO David Dyson yesterday, who seemed to share my pessimistic view, and I'm not surprised, given the 20Mbit/s speeds that can be obtained on Three's affordable DC-HSDPA network.

"In my opinion, 4G as a mass market proposition is unlikely to be a game changer," Dyson said, adding that the average consumer really isn't bothered about 4G, with most not even knowing what it is.

I can't help but agree. How many of us will really get the benefit of this faster connection? Personally, I do most of my web browsing at home, where I'm constantly connected to my wireless broadband router. Even when I'm in the office or on the tube I'm hooked up to a WiFi connection, so I find that 4G really isn't necessary.

However, I'm sure that if EE's 4G network was able to deliver those 100Mbit/s speeds that it is apparently capable of reaching, I'd have a different view.

At the end of the day, if you've got deep pockets and you rely on your phone's internet connection, go for it. But until 4G is cheaper and its speeds can live up to my high expectations, I won't be bothering. µ


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