4Gee, LTE and one really high fee

4g-speeds

TL:DR Carriers are stifling innovation, charging way to much for mobile internet access and have ruined 4G before it happens. They need to let us use our phones to consume. Our phones are not phones, they are connected media devices, or at least they should be.

It is here. Finally. Over two year since our friends across the pond got pretty, shiny superfast, over the air data connections, we, in the UK,  finally get some 4G internet. This is all thanks to EE, the brand new shiny carrier to go along with their brand new shiny network. Their 1800mhz 4G LTE (mouthful?!) is very different to the 800mhz band that the rest of the networks in the UK will use when they finally get round to launching their own 4G in the new year. Just now, in the UK, the 2G and 3G network operators use interchangeable frequencies that all work on a GSM radio. This is away to change. New LTE (Long Term Evolution) radios will not work with exisiting 3G and 2G technologies, so phones that currently supports 4G LTE need to have 2 seperate radios in them, a GSM one and a LTE one. This may already start to become confusing for the customer, as 1800mhz and 800mhz are not currently supported on the same LTE radio in tandem with a GSM radio. If a user buys a 4G iPhone 5 on EE then decides they don’t like that network in 6 months time and jumps ship to Vodafone, they are going to find themselves without 4G, as Vodafone’s 4G does not support that frequency. This has not been an issue in the UK for at least 20 years, but has been an issue with 3G in the USA for many years. It adds a certain level to “carrier lockdown” that goes above and beyond the current sim lock that they already do. In order to get the most out of your phone, you will have to stay on the carrier you got it from. Annoying right? We’ve not even got 4G rolled out in this country yet and already there are going to be problems.

Next we have the cost. Already, data is not cheap. 3G networks are congested, thanks to our smartphones that we all love, which drives the price up. Even then, we just accept it and pay what is a crazy amount of money for 500mb-2gb of data per month, unless you are a legacy “unlimited” customer where you actually get your legacy amount, or you pay a far higher price, and go with “3” in exchange for your soul and countless, useless hours on the phone to their “customer service”. The good news is that LTE/4G should change this. More data transfered in the same amount of “virtual space” and bandwidth. The same was true for the move from 2G to 3G, but the networks paid far to much for their slice of the spectrum and we all paid the price. This time, however, the networks have not paid such a crazy inflated price. They just have to pay for the rollout and infrastructure (which comes with every new technology) and off we go. LTE is designed to be the Long Term Evolution of cellar and mobile technology. 3G had a lifetime of around 10 years. This is supposed to go much much longer, with far higher potential max data transers. So with far lower set up costs, and with a far longer product lifetime, surely the cost to the end user should be lower? What a dream world that would be. Instead (only EE have played their hand and showed us their prices) the prices seem to be far higher. To make a quick comparison  on EE, the cheapest SIM only 4G ready deal you can get is £41/month on a 24 month contract. For this you get unlimited calls and texts and 500MB of data. On T-Mobile (essentially the same company) you can get unlimited calls, texts and data on a 12 month contract for £21/month. Only 500MB of data (albeit at 4G speed) for twice the price. But woohoo super fast? Even if you decide to pay twice as much for 500MB, it is still only 500MB. Just now over 3G you can watch Netflix and steam Spotify. 500MB is 500MB regardless of how quickly you get it. 4G just makes sure you stop browsing, or pay their overage fees a whole lot quicker.

The cloud. The cloud means a whole lot of different things to a lot of different people. But essentially, it is your files, always, everywhere. You save something to the cloud, then it is on your phone, your laptop, your tablet. Everywhere. Apple have iCould, Google have Docs/drive, music and the Play store. There is Dropbox and Skydrive. They are all clouds. 4G should make the cloud accessible. It’s all very well and good giving us a 50GB dropbox account when we take XYZ phone. But when our data runs out, we dont have access. More and more things are moving to the cloud. Google is even away to let UK users store 20,000 songs in the cloud and let you stream high quality versions of them to your phone, laptop or tablet for free. I’ve been using this for a while and it rocks. But it is limited by my carriers crappy data limit. 500mb of shiny 4G music streaming wont get you more than a weekend. That sucks.

4G is supposed to bring us fast internet and more of it. While these silly data limits exist, all innovation that can take place with faster data speeds will just stop. 4G should allow us to remain super connected all the time. I want to watch some Netflix in HD on my shiny 720 mobile screen, then I should be able to. I shouldn’t have to think, oh damn, I have a data limit, I better just wait until I’m home and use wifi (and probably not on my phone). Carriers stifle innovation and forward movement on 3G. They are away to do the same on  4G, which is designed to have more information put across it, or I guess you could pay £61/month for 8GB for a 24month contract. Even then, 8GB does not go far. Just measure how much you use at home. I would guess that there is at least 5GB that gets transfered per day over my home broadband connection, between Netflix, Iplayer, 4OD and Facebook. We use our phones to consume more and more all the time, and the divide between phone and laptop is closing. The only thing stopping this happening is the network carriers. They are ruining 4G and it hasn’t even started yet. They are also ruining my mobile experience.

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2 comments

  1. Carl - November 5, 2012 7:03 pm

    No point in diving into 4g yet, only idiots with too much money and not enough sense will buy into 4g now, they deserve to be ripped off for being naive, and failing to do their research.

    Why the hate for ” three” network?? I LeftVodafone for “three” and I have never looked back, best network I ever been on, and unlimited data, I never go over my £37 a month, and use my iPhone like a dongle. Would recommend it to anyone.

  2. ryan - November 5, 2012 11:25 pm

    It is going to be a long time before it becomes sensible to have it. 10 years of 3G, and during that there was maybe only 18months where buying 3G was good value. Those plans have long since expired as well.

    3 have a reputation for being the worst customer service in the UK. It is widely accepted that while their plans may be cheap, you do have to pay in other ways, especially if you have to call them up. I guess for fairness sake, I am a Vodafone customer (and have been for the last 6 5 years), during that I had the worst 2 weeks of customer service in my life, when I briefly toyed with 3. I thought it cant be as bad as every one says it is, I was wrong. It was awful. Prior to Vodafone, I was on 3 and left partly because of their lack of customer service, partly because I wanted a phone they didnt have, I would have stayed if they were polite and helpful though.

    Either way, I have ~14 months left with my Vodafone contract (they offered me something I couldnt refuse) but will most likely be paying that off early and going to GiffGaff. Community forums are great, coverage is very nice and they offer a sensible pricing structure. That is helped by the fact that a good sim free phone is now affordable (N4).