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
    0

    Comment number 51.

    Talk about 4G or even 3G, FTTC, FTTH, Infinity, Virgin and cable networks....goes right over my head and leaves me feeling cold. Still can't get more than 800kbps on fixed line broadband (only just been given the privilege of ADLS2). When left to the "market", the cities get over-saturated with all sorts of products and choices, and the digital divide is left to grow even wider in other places.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 50.

    Well it's hardly going to be perfect at the initial launch, is it? They need the thing to actually be used before they can map out where the coverage is and where the dark spots are. Given the limited user base, I doubt it'll happen too soon but they can probably boost the signal if they want later down the line. Which they'll need to do if there's any serious uptake.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 49.

    You mention cell phones do not work well in modern buildings. This is because they are built with a steel structure effectively creating a Faraday cage - keeping out the signal.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 48.

    Just for the 1800Mhz worriers. Yes it's not as good as 800Mhz would be. But it still works.You're using it already if you're on Orange or T-Mobile for 2/3G data. In fact due to the way 4G works it's slightly better at in building coverage than existing 3G data would be. But not as good as 800Mhz will be.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 47.

    I haven't got much of a life and I have money left over at the end of each month.
    Where can I get the latest smartphone with 4g?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 46.

    I hope the capacity is there to make this a viable alternative to fixed broadband in the future; had I not just got a new phone via work I would have bought a 4G phone and potentially ditched my BT land line and broadband.

    You can't expect building penetration to be any different to 3G seeing as they're just reusing old 3G spectrum at the moment.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    Its a nice day for getting a good connection & speaking to somebody, you could even give some good news live away from G jive talking.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 44.

    Frankly I would be hugely surprised if 4G ever delivers a decent service beyond some city centres. Certainly 3G fails to deliver even basic phone calls once you out of a city centre. I can't have a phone conversation (hands free of course) anywhere between Cambridge and my home or Cambridge and Newcastle, or most of Cambridge to London. Far less download data.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 43.

    I would love any of those speeds in my house, except the not registering one....

    I get around 1.5mbps in my house. And before anyone starts I don't live in the sticks, I live in a major town just outside of Glasgow. We have a population of just under 80,000 and yet we can't even get 2mbps broadband!

    So 1.5mbps from a hard wire connection in my home or 8-53mbps on a 4g dongle? goodbye BT hello EE

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 42.

    Unfortunately this is being horribly oversold. A good RF engineer told me that, due to the frequency being used, the 4G signal does not travel as far as lower frequency signals do. This means that, until a veritable forest of aerials is put up, coverage will be patchy, and the speeds accordingly variable.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 41.

    4G will make little difference to me, as I can hardly use my existing, not-very-smart-at-all phone. A truly smartphone is likely way beyond my limited abilities, so a superfast network will be wasted on a man who takes ten minutes to compose a tweet.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 40.

    This is no different to the argument about how fast you can travel on the M1 - 70mph in theory but try that on a Friday or Sunday evening when there are lots of people using it.

    What exactly will these 4G users be using this speed for ? Like the proposed HS2 train, is it that important we shave a few milliseconds off the speed of something when you get held up on the motorway at the end anyway?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 39.

    @Dave (Comment 30) If EE had been prevented from launching, there could be further significant delays before the other MNOs could provide a LTE service. The delay in licence auctioning is one issue but handset compatibility is also likely to become more and more of a problem as LTE will end up operating on a multitude of bands in the UK, certainly more than 3G currently.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 38.

    This obsession with speed on the go is ridiculous.

    I'm a software developer, and I get no satisfaction from using a phone as a computer, at all. I'm amazed anyone does.

    With my typing speed and mouse control, using a phone is about 10 times slower than my PC. I can't deal with the frustration, and am amazed how many people can! Maybe most people are just slow across the board?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 37.

    33. NUMBER88GAMESTER
    JUST NOW
    I am thoroughly disappointed with the findings of this article, it is quite clear that the network coverage and pricing claims made by EE are very misleading. Shame on them!
    __
    Caveat emptor - as true now as it was in the days when I was a slave in the Imperial Palace during the reign of one of the nastier emperors.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 36.

    @27
    Not sure of the relevance of your comment to this article, but i'll answer your question.....

    Most people are stupid, probably more than 2/3rds (or 66%) of the population. It stands to reason that the same percentage of stupid people own smartphones, therefore owning a smartphone is a moot point.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 35.

    Where I tend to want a data connection, rural Britain (poor coverage) or in Europe (better coverage, but oh the prices on my UK phone!!), I don't see 4G as having much impact on my usage.

    Yes, I know that I could change my sim card in europe, one for each country I travel through, but in this day and age, I shouldn't have to, especially when my UK carrier has sister companies in Europe.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 34.

    Before the networks even start bothering with 4G could we please get 3G in more areas outside of London? If fact in some areas a signal would be nice. I travel throughout the UK and I am consistently amazed at how often I can't get 3G. We should all be able to benefit from the Internet not just those in high density urban areas.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 33.

    I am thoroughly disappointed with the findings of this article, it is quite clear that the network coverage and pricing claims made by EE are very misleading. Shame on them!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 32.

    @Birchy (Comment 13) You have summed it up nicely. 4G is plagued by the lack of public understanding and Mobile Network Operators (NMOs) as well as the media have done little to help. e.g. EE was not actually the first 4G operator in the UK and as far as bandwidth expectations are concerned things will get muchworse before they start to improve.

 

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