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.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    given that the nature of LTE is fast data transfer - in both directions - the lack of a truly unlimited bandwidth tariff from EE points to the money they expect to make from this. They have, quite simply, made a complete mess of their launch. Broadband Britain? Not when there's money to be had.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    EE shouldn't have been allowed a head start in the first place. If they had to wait like O2 & Vodafone you would probably see better results. It's hardly surprising they aren't up to scratch when they have no competition to motivate them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The network roll out will improve coverage over time. 4G looks good speed wise, particularly on upload if you happen to be in coverage. But still the coverage is going to be key over the coming months.

    Vodaphone is correct that EE's frequency penetrates buildings less well than 800Mhz will do, but that's no different to 2/3G if you're on that spectrum. (although 4g is a bit better theoretically)

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Rory - You should be talking to the EE engineers and not the marketing people to get your facts. They would tell you that the data speed from LTE will depend upon how far you are from the radio mast. Your statement on coverage is also not fair - the 98% coverage obligation is only for 800 MHz LTE and not 1800 MHz LTE - which is the spectrum being used by EE.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    As a regular user of Orange/EE's 3G service in the Manchester area, there are a LOT of areas where the signal meter shows a full 3G signal,but there is no or little throughput when trying to use the service. This has been happening for months, yet EE claim there are no issues with thier 3G service in the area. I really wish they would concentrate on the reliability of the existing 3G service first

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    @PodAnt (Comment 18) You seem to have a severe misunderstanding of how VPNs work. The VPN will stop the network being able to tell WHAT you are sending but they don't really care. They measure the amount of data flowing over your network and with a VPN it is still flowing over the network IN ADDITION TO the overhead caused by using a VPN.
    Using a VPN will effectively give you LESS data allowance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Another slightly ... Big point:

    Why using ONLY i-Phone for such tests? There are other modems/devices (mobile phones) out there as well that most probably can perform much better!!

    What is this twisted and stupid i-Obsessions everywhere? Are you All working for the USA economy? Ignorance is ... money (to them) and lack of results (to such people).

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    This is why I've not bothered with 4G, or explained why to my friends. Too many variables to lack of wireless signals. Nothing is as fast as a connected wire, and will have it's downsides, as does anything. Strip back the marketing and have a look at why you really need 4G, because telling people you had toast on FB can be done on any connection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Rory, UK digital mobile works on 3 frequency bands, 900Mhz, 1800Mhz and 2100Mhz. Next years Ofcom auction will make a 4th available for 4G services, 800Mhz. The lower frequencies go through walls better than the higher ones. EE is reusing some of their 1800Mhz signal for this preemptive service, so Vodafone are right, it will be rubbish indoors, waiting for the 800Mhz services will be better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    What matters is consistency. 3G is not that great yet. What is the point of this speed? Do people really want to download huge quantities of data in seconds at BR Stations? Better 3G would be more attractive to all but numbers freaks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    If you suffer from poor connectivity then for an upper average persona you could buy 220 self adhesive HTC one Xs, apply them to your birthday suit & this should give full coverage.

    If there is space for any more then you are too big to argue with.

    EE by gum

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    It seems the data caps are lower than 3G at a higher price. I've been on 'Three' for a year, 10Gb data limit which costs £15pm. not enough, but all I can get. If I go over by 160meg they charge me £16 extra.

    So this pricing structure from EE which is already extortionate could also potentially double as that last 5 mins of the YouTube video streams in at high speed...think about it. Beware.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Sorry but if your silly enough to pay for a 4G service that is just pitiful you deserve what you get, your money would be better invested in a good VPN Faster smarter safer and they can’t tell how much bandwidth you used.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    And don't forget this is on a network which currently doesn't have that many users on it, only the early adopters.

    I would fully expect things to slow right down once the masses come on-board (presuming that they do) and everyone starts up and downloading in parallel...

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Just tested HSPA on my phone, this is on the outskirts of a small UK city wthout 4G.

    Download: 6.661Mb/s
    Upload: 1.51 Mb/s

    That's ample to stream HD video footage on my phone if I ever wanted too (nope not really!). It leaves me wondering why anyone would consider upgrading to 4G unless you live in the centre of a city, which ironically is where you'll find plenty of free wifi spots...

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    3G is fast enough for most purposes when it works, but the biggest problems (poor reception and poor throughput due to network congestion) will still apply.

    If anything 4G will be more frustrating as it will be exceptional some of the time, but most of the time you'll get poor throughput and an empty bettery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Actually, all of those speeds are pretty damn good. Not too much to complain about there I think. the only poor one is inside BH but let's be honest - you'll switch to WiFi in there so it's not an issue.
    All in all, that's a pretty impressive 4G test.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Your still limited by the per user bandwidth limit on whatever server your trying to access content on and more importantly what servers lie between you and the content.

    If on 3G your test shows 4Mb bandwidth, but your actual DL speed is half that (say 150KBps), then for all the will in the world, 4G won't be any faster.
    Lack of general public understanding is their biggest cash cow.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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