Not so fast - testing 4G


Rory Cellan-Jones speed tests the new 4G service in Manchester

For 36 hours, I have been trying out 4G in two cities where it has been launched by the EE network. Everywhere I've gone in London and Manchester, outside, indoors, on trains and in cars, I've used a speed testing application. And while I've seen some breathtakingly fast results, there has also been some worrying evidence that the speed and extent of the 4G network is being oversold.

Here is a selection of my results:

Monday 29 October, 14:55 GMT, Oxford Street: Download 53.74 Mbps, Upload 4.72 Mbps, Ping 33 ms

Screenshot of download speed

Picking up the 4G phone that I was borrowing from the EE store on Oxford Street, I gave it my first test - and it was very very fast. A 53Mbps download is better than the vast majority of UK broadband users could achieve at home right now - but obviously at EE's flagship central London store, the company had made sure the network delivered.

15:12 GMT, BBC Broadcasting House: Download 8.13Mbps, Upload 0.05 Mbps, Ping 62 ms

Oh dear - inside the BBC's new headquarters, things slowed right down. But then again, for some reason most mobile phone networks don't work at all inside the state-of-the-art building so this was better than many colleagues were getting.

18:55 GMT, Euston Station Food Court - no result

Deep inside a chaotic Euston Station, more problems. The Speedtest app could not detect any data signal at all.

19:19 GMT, Euston platform 7: Download 16.31 Mbps, Upload 12.09 Mbps, Ping 41 ms

But once we took our seats on the Manchester train, 4G leaped back into life. The upload speeds looked startlingly good as we waited for the train to leave. As we headed out through North London, however, the 4G network seemed to disappear even before we had breached the North Circular Road.

21:56 GMT, Manchester Piccadilly: Download 17.27 Mbps, Upload 11.57 Mbps, Ping 37 ms

Once we had arrived in Manchester, one of the 11 cities that were to go live with EE 4G on Tuesday morning, I was relieved to see that things were working.

Tuesday 30 October, 06:13 GMT, Teacup & Cakes Cafe: Download 19.37 Mbps, Upload 11.19 Mbps, Ping 57 ms

At the cafe which kindly opened at the crack of dawn so that we could broadcast into BBC Breakfast and numerous radio stations, another pretty good result. That kind of speed might not look too startling - but if there is plenty of capacity it would make 4G a very attractive option to small businesses looking for an alternative to fixed broadband.

10:34 GMT, Stanycliffe: Download 8.03 Mbps, Upload 1.80 Mbps, Ping 129 ms (3G)

We headed north out of Manchester to see how far the 4G network stretched. As expected it melted away as we crossed the M60, but EE's 3G network proved surprisingly robust. This result from a village on the road to Rochdale looks excellent - but if you can get this on 3G why would you pay more for 4G?

13:19 GMT, Media City Salford: Download 13.33 Mbps, Upload 6.31 Mbps, Ping 57 ms

Screenshot of download speed

Live from outside the BBC North base at Salford, we were back on 4G at a pretty respectable if unspectacular speed. Note the upload figure though - for anyone trying to send data rather than receive that will look very attractive. Mind you, inside the BBC building the 4G disappeared again. Vodafone has suggested that EE's brand of 4G won't be effective indoors - does that charge stick?

18:44 GMT, Near Stockport: Download 16.65 Mbps, Upload 12.88 Mbps, Ping 38 ms

As our train headed out of Manchester, the 4G network seemed to stretch as far as Stockport. Taking advantage of some impressive upload speeds, I uploaded a video to YouTube in under a minute.

21:43 GMT, Ealing London: Download 4.46 Mbps, Upload 1.51 Mbps, Ping 76 ms (3G)

Screenshot of download speed

But there was a disappointing end to my 4G testing marathon. Arriving at my home in the remote wastelands of west London, I found that EE's network did not stretch this far. True - this 3G result is a lot better than my usual network gives me at home. But if 4G really is supposed to deliver a superfast future, indoors and outside, to 98% of the UK's population, wouldn't you expect it to work right across the nation's capital? Maybe the change of brand to EE is a tacit admission that the network just cannot deliver Everything Everywhere.

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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    When the data caps are so low that you can burn through them in a matter of minutes, why does 4G matter at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    When my 3.5 G is actually firing properly the data transfer on my phone is plenty fast enough, so I don't think 4G would be necessary if the current networks worked properly. Unfortunately in Central London there are large swathes where you get rubbish speeds,

    As others have pointed out, on most current contracts if 4G was working properly you would hit your data limit in about 5 minutes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Early days of course, and improvements should happen with time. The only thing I am wondering about is, why are we all in such a flaming hurry? We'll not get to the graveyard any sooner, and I doubt if anything works there. (Peace and quiet at last!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I dont know what did people expect from this? 3G has been around for ages and we are still not in a position where I get constantly good signal in populated areas despite being with the provider who suppose to have the best coverage. The only way forward is if companies stop investing in separate networks and instead develop one huge network together for a fraction of the cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    No one is going to deny that 4G is nice to have and the signal strength won't better 3G.
    This issue EE have is the pricing.
    They are profiteering from people using more data and scaring off the early adopters.
    Competition can't come fast enought to drive prices and contract lengths down

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    im on 3 and their HSPA network is brilliant. plenty fast enough for online shopping, browsing, apps etc. im not sad enough to want to sit and stream video on my phone endlessly. and in any case, for those that do they will hit the MB limit extremely quickly so either have to stop or pay shed-loads more a month. pointless 'advance' for those of us in the know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    the part of the spectrum that EE are currently using for their 4g does not have great building penetration, I will wait until the other operators free up the 800mhz range and then we will se what 4g is capable of....right up to the point that everyone has 4g and it slows down to a crawl.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    @1 - I think you made a wrong turn, the Daily Mail is that way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Speed shouldn't be the issue. The bandwidth behind the service is what really counts and none of the mobile operators have the capacity to support higher data throughput. So your speed is irrelevant!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    "Everything Everywhere" will charge "Everybody Endlessly" for "Erratic Engagement"

    EE by gum !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Doing all those speed tests must have cost you a fortune in data transfer costs. Still, not to worry, the BBC is paying !


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