Battle of the bands: how the new 4G networks will differ

Mobile companies will use different airwave frequencies to offer 4G and this will impact on their service

Following the news that O2 will be launching its own 4G service on August 29, the fuss over the new network standard continues to confuse. And the difference is not only about costs - due to different companies using different parts of the radio spectrum to broadcast 4G, the services themselves will be varied.

For a start, the promise of 'superfast' speeds via 4G isn't so straightforward. EE have been reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for misleading consumers with their use of the word as its usually used in reference to fixed line internet connections offering download speeds of 24Mbps and upwards.

Whilst 4G will certainly be 'superfast' in comparison to 3G (probably around five times faster), it still doesn't offers download speeds equal to wired connections. Networks can always promise speeds of ‘up to’ some ridiculously high number, but such claims - whilst technically true -  are usually false in practice.

EE’s attempts to hype up its network are understandable given its failure to  take advantage of its early monopoly on 4G in the UK. The company was the first to offer 4G back in 2012 after petitioning Ofcom  to convert some of its existing network capacity.

Other telecoms were taken off guard by the move, as most had expected to launch 4G services after Ofcom's planned auction of broadband spectrums in February 2013 (more on that later).

However, EE got greedy with its monopoly and launched its 4G network at extortionate prices. £31 for 3GB a month on a SIM only contract locked in for 24 months was one of their 'better' deals and unsurprisingly, customers didn’t bite, with revenues for the company falling 2% year on year.

Selling the airwaves

Following this false-start for 4G in the UK, the government auctioned off new portions of the airwaves in February this year, with telecoms buying them with the intent to launch 4G networks (though we should note that BT also bought some of the bands for non-4G purposes).

The auction was partly sparked by the closure of terrestrial television and the switch to digital, which freed up parts of the spectrum. Money was, of course, another motivating factor, and the sale raised £2.34bn; a large sum but still significantly smaller than the £3.5bn predicted by the treasury.

The idea of selling off something as intangible as Britain’s 'air' certainly strikes the imagination (‘New Low for Austerity Britain as Government Sells ‘Blitz Spirit’ to Saudi Royals’) but the companies are merely buying the right to broadcast at certain frequencies (full sales figures can be seen here).

Apart from creative possibilities of auctioning off abstract concepts, the frequency auction becomes very interest when you know that two different sorts of frequencies were being sold – bands around the 800MHz and 2.6GHz levels - will offer different sorts of 4G service.

How the spectrum varies

Activating 4G networks on the higher spectrum, the 2.6GHz band, will allow networks to offer higher download speeds – far better suited to urban environments where high number of customers will be ‘hogging the line’ as it were.

In comparison, the 800MHz band will be better suited for long-distance coverage and able to reach more remote parts of the country.

In the February auction O2 and Three only purchased sections of the 800MHz frequency (for £550m and £225m respectively) whilst Vodafone and EE bought into both the 800MHz and 2.6GHz ranges.

In theory, this might mean that O2’s service is worse for city-dwellers but will be available to a higher degree of the population (they're aiming for 98%, but then again, so are EE) whilst the opposite could hold true for EE.

It also means that EE will have the edge over O2 by being able to offer the iPhone 5. This model isn’t compliant with the 800MHz frequency but works perfectly well on the 1.8GHz band used by EE. Thankfully for O2 the forthcoming iPhone 5S will be compatible on all of these frequencies.

Despite this, it's not all to EE's advantage, as mobile experts have also said that the 800MHz range is far better suited for mobile data, which should mean less dropped video calls and the like, even if the speeds are slightly slower.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

    Ashdown Group: European Recruitment Manager - Cheshire - up to £48,000

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus and benefits: Ashdown Group: European Recrui...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions