Posts tagged ‘launch’

UK finally gets some 4G competition

4G_cupcake

An O2 4G cupcake in London today

It’s a big day for LTE in the UK as Vodafone and O2 both launch their LTE networks, giving EE some competition in the 4G space some 10 months after it first launched. However, EE’s rivals are hampered by the limited nature of their launches – London, Leeds and Bradford for O2, and just London for Vodafone. This will hit 13 and 12 cities respectively by the end of the year, but for most of the country outside London/Leeds it’s all rather less exciting.

Still if you are in coverage and you’re wondering if the networks are actually running and how they compare you’re in luck. I popped down to Oxford Street this lunchtime and into the relevant stores for some EE vs Vodafone vs O2 LTE speed test action.

While the numbers are good, my experiences in store were not exactly stellar however. Both O2 and Vodafone had specialist 4G staff on hand, but only the latter actually got it right.

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EE LTE: First impressions – fast but pricey

As you may have seen the UK finally joined the 4G club today as EE as put its devices on sale through its new rebranded stores. Gone are Orange and T-Mobile shops, and in their stead are EE stores – with the Orange and T-Mobile logos neatly placed in the corner so people have some idea what this newcomer to the high street is all about.

I walked in to the store on Tottenham Court Road in the heart of London and to take a look at the store and see what sort of speeds the network was offering on Day One. I initially picked up a Samsung Galaxy S3 (which is huge by the way) and looked to run a speed test. However, I noticed that the phone was connected via Wi-Fi, which on a display stand advertising EE 4G doesn’t seem like the smartest move. I tried to manually go into the settings and turn it off, but was thwarted by a password screen. Not a great start.

I then picked up another Android phone of unknown (or at least unremembered) parentage, but was immediately put off by the cheap, plasticky feel and the confusing mess of icons that is Android. Where does one start with that OS? It’s hard to know. I didn’t have time to mess around so with relief I found on display an iPhone 5 – connected to EE LTE, with Wi-Fi. The Speedtest.net app was preinstalled, so I just had to fire it up – simples.

On first attempt I got 13.90Mbps down and 9.80Mbps. The latter is impressive – faster than my home connection, but the former – a bit meh. The second go was better – 26.68Mbps down and 13.27Mbps up. Not bad, not bad at all. Of course, this is day one – the equivalent of driving sports car at speed on an empty motorway – but it’s promising.

If we’re being harsh, and we are, one thing to note to note is the ping of 50ms – good, but not outstanding. That said, we’ve been told that LTE would be responsive, and it was. Web pages loaded quickly, video streamed instantly and I could scrub through with no lag.

While I was using the phone an assistant came up to me and asked if he could help. I asked if he could make EE tariffs cheaper. He looked bemused.

Much has been made of the fact that the EE prices seem very expensive to UK consumers. There’s the £36 starting point for a 500MB of data, and £56 a month top whack for £56 8GB on a lengthy two-year contract . If you’ve bought a phone outright and you want SIM only, you need to pay £31 a month for 3GB and £36 for 5GB. I’m paying £10 a month for unlimited data, so in no way do the EE tariffs seem attractive to me.

The service I’m with, an MVNO on O2 called Giffgaff offers low tariffs but has no shiny stores to pay for, and no phone-based customer care either – just a website and a forum full of knowledgeable, active users who can help you in seconds if you need assistance. The types you might say, that would be very likely to want to be early adopters of a fast network to really make the most of data, and would probably pay a bit more to get it. A bit more – maybe 100% more – but not 260% more.

One has to wonder who EE is aiming for, with its big stores, big phones, and its big prices. Not me. I sent the helper on his way, and I went on mine.

UK finally joins the LTE fast track

Today Olaf Swantee, the CEO of UK carrier Everything Everywhere, newly dubbed EE, confirmed that announced that finally, LTE was coming to the UK. In fact, it’s here already. As you read this, shiny new LTE 1800 signals are shooting out from masts in four of the launch cities that have been turned on today for testing purposes, these being London, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol.

A word on the brand name change: Everything Everywhere to EE. It may not be the greatest name for a network, but it’s a darn sight better than the awkward, cumbersome Everything Everywhere, and as Olaf pointed out, it’s what the media refer to the network as anyway, and a link to what has gone before. A good move then.

EE logo

The operator chose London’s Science Museum, home of so many technological innovations, as the location for its EE launch, a fitting venue for what EE CEO Olaf Swantee described as the, “communications equivalent of the change that jet made over steam”. The EE network he said would become, “as important to the country as the roads, the railways and the airports. This digital backbone will unlock new trade routes, unleash healthcare and create a host of opportunities that we haven’t been thought of yet. It will enable Britain to become a more modern, digital country, truly connected to itself, its neighbours and the world.”

By the end of the year the EE LTE network will be live commercially in 16 cities, the others being Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Belfast, Southampton, Hull, Nottingham and Derby. This will cover 20 million people, about a third of the UK population.

Fortunately those in other areas won’t have to wait too long, with the network rolling out during 2013 to the rest of the country and 98 per cent of the population by 2014. While a couple of years may seem a long way away, compared to the inertia regarding LTE only a few months ago, it’s relative light-speed.

No details were give on an exact full commercial launch date but we did get to hear about the five launch handsets, the Samsung Galaxy SIII, the HTC One XL, the Huawei Ascend P1 LTE and both new Windows 8 powered Nokias, the Lumia 820 and 920. There’s also the Huawei E589 Mobile WiFi mifi and the Huawei E392 mobile broadband USB. It seems like a very strong line up, but Olaf gave a very strong hint that there was more major news to come saying, “one more thing, more devices to come”. I think we know what that means.

Of course the other major networks may not be happy at the year lead that regulator Ofcom has given them by allowing EE, the merger of T-Mobile and Orange, to refarm its 1800 2G signals for 4G, but it seems unlikely that EE would have made a big a noise as it has today about the launch if it felt it was in danger of being held up by litigation. At this point Vodafone and O2 would probably have more to lose than to gain by holding up LTE in the UK any longer.

It seems than the from seemingly last place, the UK could pull it out the bag and come from behind to take the lead for 4G, ahead of major economies such as France and Germany that have already had a head start of the 4G race.

Olaf Swantee

Olaf Swantee, CEO of EE announcing the new brand and UK LTE network

It’s been a long road for EE to get here but the master stroke was having 1800 spectrum spare, which came about when France Telecom and Deutsche Telecom agreed to merge their UK brands into a single network. It is this that has enabled it to make the leap forward it has today, and potentially get a valuable lead in the UK 4G market. Of course how effective that will be will much depend on how competitively it sets out its pricing. While the speeds of 5-6x that of 3G are not to be sniffed at, it won’t be as exciting for the country if average consumers are priced out of the market.

It could go that way of course. Orange and T-Mobile will remain but will be hived off as 3G-only with EE becoming a premium 4G brand. This would hint that not everyone using the EE network will be switching to LTE immediately, possibly because it will require a new device, and tariff pricing will make it a premium option.

There could also be some confusion, as all EE customers will see EE displayed on their phones, regardless of whether they are on 3G or LTE.

The nonsense that was spouted by EE about its rather underwhelming new logo can be forgiven, or at least ignored, but Boris Johnson description of it as a “pollen count dot idea” is better than what EE itself presented to us.

Ah Boris, after an incredible summer of British sporting and organisational achievement that was the Olympics and Para Olympics, the London mayor has been handed another fantastic boon – a city soon to be swathed in 4G signals. A good move of EE to bring him on board for a typically highly amusing speech, where he managed to get away with thanking EE rival Vodafone for sponsoring the Olympics, and declare his love of “gizmos spouting data”. (scroll down and click link to listen to his amusing speech).

Boris Johnson EE

Boris Johnson’s speech at the EE launch, London 11 September 2012 (Audio only)

Also mentioned by Olaf, was the introduction of ‘superfast fibre’, under the EE brand, but while I was hoping this might be some revolutionary fibre to the home, it’s in fact offering speeds up to 76Mbps, so most likely just using incumbent BT’s wholesale network. Even so, as a combined offering under the EE brand, offering 4G LTE and fast fibre seems like a very strong play.

Many details still need to be fleshed out, in particular regarding pricing, but it’s hard to come away from the day’s news without an optimistic feeling that with EE’s move in LTE the UK will finally be able to compete and even lead the way for mobile broadband. Like Andy Murray, after years of waiting, we could finally be getting the grand slam network we’ve been waiting for.

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