EE, 4G, BoJo, OMG

 

Rory Cellan-Jones tests out 4G at the news conference

It didn't start too well. For the first 20 minutes of Everything Everywhere's big 4G launch at the Science Museum we were treated to a lecture on the brilliance of its new brand, EE, and the strategy behind it. When we were told to sit through a "short mood film" about the brand, I fully expected Siobhan from Perfect Curve in the BBC comedy Twenty Twelve to take to the stage.

But when it came to 4G itself, there was plenty to get your teeth into. By Christmas, the new fast network, already operational in four cities, would be available to 20 million people in urban areas across the UK, from Belfast to Derby, from Glasgow to Southampton.

You'll need a new phone of course, or a 4G dongle, and we heard that devices from Samsung, Nokia and Huawei, would be available to connect customers to the EE network within weeks.

But instead of a manufacturer taking to the stage - perhaps they're wary of offending other networks - up popped the mayor of London Boris Johnson. He freely admitted he was a little confused about 4G, but thought it was a jolly good thing that London would have it, when Paris would still be waiting.

Everything Everywhere boss Olaf Swantee announces 4G rollout

Afterwards we got to try out the EE 4G, which was beaming a signal from the roof of the Victoria and Albert museum. I compared a Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE - not on sale yet in the UK - with two iPhones running on the O2 and Vodafone networks. The Samsung achieved download speeds of up to 30Mbps on 4G, while the 3G networks delivered between 1 and 5Mbps on the iPhone.

Not a completely fair test - I had a six lane highway virtually to myself on EE's 4G while 3G networks are becoming congested - but an idea of what the future promises.

There are still important questions to be answered. What will customers have to pay for the service and when will it reach those rural areas that may need it more than the towns?

And what will be the reaction of rival networks, bitter at seeing EE given a head start by Ofcom when they won't be able to offer 4G until well into 2013? Even during the press conference I was getting messages from one operator claiming that it would provide much better coverage when its service was up and running. But it seems that the threat of legal action may be on hold after a government intervention, and any move to put a spoke in the wheels of the 4G rollout might not play well with the public.

The other question - will EE be able to offer UK customers a 4G iPhone after tomorrow's Apple launch? The chief executive Olaf Swantee told me he simply didn't know. But if his network can go into Christmas offering the two most popular phones - the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the new iPhone - on a new fast network, that noise echoing across Britain will be the gnashing of teeth from the headquarters of Vodafone and O2.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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