With Ofcom giving Everything Everywhere the green light to launch a 4G mobile service on Orange and T-Mobile, the big question on the UK’s lips is, “When can I get some of that action?” and the answer, you’ll be pleased to hear, is very soon indeed. Where it gets a little murkier - and possibly a touch more disappointing - is in the details. Read on and we will fill you in on exactly how the 4G roll-out is going to affect you.
When is 4G coming to the UK?
Everything Everywhere’s announcement means that 4G is officially arriving on 11 September. Whether or not customers will actually be allowed to use it from that date is another thing but, given that EE, along with all of the other UK networks, has performed plenty of 4G tests in the past, there’s no reason why the infrastructure shouldn’t be consumer-ready from minute one. It would seem to all be down to having a device that’s compatible to use it.
When are the 4G phones coming?
Tricky one. Not yet, is both the official and the short answer. Everything Everywhere has been quick to slow down the hysteria by saying that its respective network brands will probably begin the 4G frenzy with some mobile broadband dongles here and there with proper, dedicated 4G smartphones coming out from the beginning of 2013.
But what about 4G phones in the rest of the world?
True. Yes, there are already plenty of 4G handsets worldwide but they don’t all operate at the same frequencies. The 4G radio chips inside do not broadcast at the 1800MHz standard that EE is using for 4G in the UK. So, yes, you could buy yourself a foreign 4G phone but it wouldn’t work over here, either before or after 11 September.
That said, it just so happens that Australian 4G works at the 1800MHz frequency already, so there’s no reason why a phone from there won’t work as soon as 4G is switched on, on 11 September in the UK. If you really want to, then, by all means, pick up an Aussie 4G smartphone and be a trailblazer.
Will Samsung and HTC just launch UK 4G versions of the One X and the SGSIII?
That would be quite an expensive play to make dedicated handsets for only one country and just a handful of networks. Instead, expect the big phone manufacturers to wait until the new year and, very probably until MWC 2013 in February to announce their big 4G handset plans for the UK and Europe.
The other interesting consideration is that there are no quad-core 4G handsets out there at the moment. It seems that the two technologies have not agreed with one another until now. So, perhaps we've had the better of the options in the UK for the time being. Hopefully soon some new silicon will hit the market, allowing both a 4G radio and a fully powered processor in the same device. Expect such beasts come next year.
1800MHz? That’s not the chosen UK 4G spectrum
Well, no. Ofcom is still set to auction off the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands later in 2013 with all of the networks open to offer bids. It just so happens that, since the Orange and T-Mobile merger, Everything Everywhere now has plenty of 1800MHz spectrum to spare - a portion of the spectrum that it traditionally would have used for standard 2G traffic. Instead, Ofcom has allowed EE to repurpose this for a 4G launch.
So, Orange and T-Mobile will have the 4G UK exclusive?
To begin with, yes. It’s unlikely that either Vodafone or O2 would make the same move and will instead wait for that Ofcom auction in 2013. So, EE will have the drop on everyone else for a good few months. That said, as part of the merger agreement, Three has been entitled to buy some 1800MHz spectrum from Everything Everywhere and has done just that on the same day that EE announced its 4G plans. So, it looks as if it will just be Vodafone and O2 that get left out in the cold.
Will the iPhone 5 be the iPhone 4G UK then?
Interesting question. There are two intriguing things here. The first is that the EE 4G roll-out is just days before the expected iPhone 5 announcement. Coincidence? Maybe, but the fact that Three has rushed to buy itself some 1800MHz potential 4G access adds a little more weight to the idea that something important might be coming. So, yes, it’s entirely possible that this has all happened to the appropriate timescale to make sure that these networks have a super-speedy, super-new, iPhone 4G as soon as Apple launches it. Read more
What kind of 4G are we talking about anyway?
4G is a bit of a blanket term for all next-generation mobile technologies which include the likes of WiMax, LTE and sometimes, very sneakily, the 3.5G standard that is HSPA+. The good news is that Everything Everywhere’s version is fully-blown LTE and should offer some pretty heady potential download speeds of anywhere up to 100Mbps. The reality is that those will be some optimum quotes. Nevertheless, in the field, you should be punching well above 20Mbps without a problem, with the ability to download an album in less than 60 seconds and a movie in 10 minutes.
Will I be able to get 4G in my area?
We don’t know at the moment. That’s the short answer. Everything Everywhere hasn’t been specific about how far reaching its 4G network will be. Given that it already has a bunch of 1800MHz broadcasting masts all over the country though, there’s no reason to think that it won’t be a pretty expansive start. A typical, conservative kind of launch for this technology would lead safe betters to put their money on the usual response to this question which is “large, urban and metropolitan areas”. So, if you’re out in the sticks, you can expect a bit of a wait.