4GEE, or not 4GEE: that is the question

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The UK may finally have an ultra-fast 4G mobile broadband connection, but it appears consumers aren’t yet convinced that the tariff plans offered by mobile operator EE represent value for money.  So does 4GEE represent EEvolution or rEEvolution? Quidblog weighs up four pros and four cons of making the switch.

PRO - It’s super fast

In 2011 OFCOM measured the average UK 3G download speed at around 2.1 megabits a second, its 4G (also known as Long Term Evolution / LTE) successor functions at 8 and 10 Mbit/s, with possible instances of up to 40 Mbit/s. Typical 4G latency (the time it takes for a page to load) is only 60-70 milliseconds, while 3G latency is typically 100-125ms.

In simple terms, 4G is very fast; so fast in fact that it will likely redefine the way users utilise their handsets. As things stand there aren’t that many apps which require 4G, they’re still in development, but in the meantime browsing the web and streaming HD-quality video will be noticeably quicker and smoother than 3G equivalents.

PRO - It’s the future, now

Having been given permission by the government to reuse spare network capacity, EE is the only mobile operator running a 4G service. In effect the company has secured a six-month head start on Three, O2 and Vodafone whose own customers won’t have access to a similar super-fast service until an auction of low frequency bandwidth takes place next spring. If you want to start using 4G as soon as possible, you’ve only got one option and it starts and ends with ‘E’.

PRO - You might be an EE customer already

If you’re one of the 28 million customers currently signed up to Orange or T-Mobile you won’t technically have to change provider to get 4G, as both brands fall under the EE umbrella. Enticing deals for ‘internal’ customers have hence been created to help smooth the EE upgrade process with Orange and T-Mobile customers who’ve purchased the iPhone 4S, Galaxy S3 or HTC One X in the last six months offered the chance to trade in their phone and move to 4GEE tariffs for the rest of the year at a set fee of £99.

Those who’ve signed up to either brand on pay monthly contracts inside the last six-months can upgrade for free, while those who have non 4G-ready phones or contracts signed more than six months ago can move for two-thirds of the cost of their existing contract.

PRO - The extras

As an incentive for signing a contract with EE, the company is promising to cover the data usage of any films streamed or downloaded from their new film store until February 2013. There’s further good news for film fans in the shape of 2-for-1 film tickets on Wednesdays via the EE Film App, while music lovers (on contracts over £40 a month) are also catered for with 18 million songs available on or offline for ‘free’ through the Deezer app. If you’re a gamer EE will also allow two free game downloads a month to help ensure you’re never without entertainment on the commute to work.

CON - It’s going to cost

On average the EE tariff plans for 4G are 10-20% pricier than existing 3G alternatives and with no competition on the horizon until next year it looks very unlikely that these will drop in the near future. Factor in the cost of a new 4GEE-compatible handset, of which there are less than ten to choose from at the moment, and you could have to pay an additional £179.99 up front. It’s perhaps unsurprising therefore that 72% of respondents to a ThinkBroadband poll claim to be put off from upgrading to the service due to the prices.

CON - Download limits

Tariff costs aren’t the only reason why consumers are staying put at the moment. EE’s decision to impose data download limits means that even on the most expensive £56 a month contracts you could be billed extra if you exceed the 8GB limit. If you do go over your allotted monthly limit you’ll have to pay bite-sized amounts to get more speedy data. £3 gets you 50MB extending to £20 for an extra 4GB.

Given that 4G affords users the opportunity to download large HD movie files very quickly it’s more than possible that those with a penchant for watching video on their smart phone could be severely stung. If you’ve only got the £36 a month 500MB contract you’ll likely exceed your limit watching a couple of hours of BBC iPlayer programmes on the go. You’ve been warned.

CON - Connection not available everywhere

EE launched their 4GEE service in 10 cities across the country at the end of last month and are hoping to have a further six cities up and running in the next couple of months. The aim is for 70% of the country to be covered by the service by the end of 2013, but it’s obvious that there will be areas around the UK that may not have 4GEE reception until 2014.

For those signing up early, it’s obvious that teething problems with reception, even in showcase cities such as London, are apparent. Particular early criticisms have centred on the struggle for 4GEE reception indoors and a wild variation in signal strength. In time, these hiccups will naturally be brought under control, presumably before the country initiates a 5G network!

CON - Customer Service problems

They may have spent big money on advertising and marketing, but there’s no hiding the consumer confusion caused by the rebranding of Orange and T-Mobile under the EE banner. Problems reported so far include Orange and T-Mobile customers left puzzled by the ‘EE’ displayed by their smart phones, new EE customers accidently receiving Orange and/or T-Mobile SIM cards which don’t work, credit checks proving time-consuming obstacles in-store and footfall customers at newly branded EE High Street stores being directed to the EE website by employees, previously specialised in Orange and T-Mobile queries, unable to answer their questions.

As with the connectivity issues, EE’s brand and consumer struggles will likely be ironed out in time, until then though the temptation to wait for alternatives remains.