Mobile revolution or £4bn flop? First 4G network switches on

Britain finally gets superfast phone connections – but it will cost you extra to download hours of television

A giant map of Britain's new 4G mobile phone network will be projected on to Battersea Power Station in London on Thursday as the pop star Nicole Scherzinger performs at a “star-studded night of entertainment” hosted by Everything Everywhere (EE) – the company spearheading the UK's fourth-generation revolution.

By making the service available now, EE – which owns Orange and T-Mobile – is trying to steal a march on rivals which will not launch 4G networks until next year. Its service is available on the Apple iPhone 5 and some HTC, Samsung, Nokia and Huawei devices.

For early-adopters who ignored warnings that EE has launched 4G before its broadband network is sufficiently developed (it is available in only 11 cities so far), the company is trying to make their experiences as pain-free as possible.

The service, which promises internet downloads of music and video up to five times faster than 3G, is being offered alongside a fibre-optic broadband package and promises to transform the use of video on mobile handsets. Downloading a feature-length movie could take as little as three minutes on a 4G phone.

The EE website offers a "check your coverage" facility, whereby customers can input their postcode into a search engine to access a map on which various shades of turquoise denote the strength of the local 4G signal.

In Greater London, the map has a reassuring oceanographic hue of emeralds and aquamarines, and only flecks of white to show absence of coverage. But in Southampton, EE can offer only a limited signal that does not reach outlying areas such as Fawley and Romsey, less than 10 miles away. When 4G fails, users are directed to a 3G network.

EE insists its 4G coverage will expand quickly in coming months as more transmitters are switched to the new network. The group has spent £1.5bn bringing 4G to London, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Sheffield, Southampton and Glasgow. Belfast, Derby, Newcastle, Hull and Nottingham will follow by the end of the year.

EE is charging 4G customers according to how much data they consume, with packages starting at £36 a month for 500 megabytes (MB), rising to £56 for eight gigabytes (GB). But there has been criticism of its price plans. The cheapest tariff's 500MB of downloads a month is equivalent to two one-hour programmes on the BBC iPlayer. Customers who want more than their 500MB allowance must pay extra, with a user looking to download eight one-hour shows a month facing estimated charges of up to £180 a year.

Ofcom, the media regulator, has let EE re-use its existing radio spectrum for a 4G network, frustrating rivals who must compete in an auction for new air space next year. Further controversy has centred on the estimated £4bn the Treasury will rake in from that auction. The BBC science expert Prof Brian Cox is backing the Campaign for Science and Engineering, which wants the money invested in research. "From training new science and maths teachers, to creating new funds to help innovative businesses, £4bn could revolutionise the UK," it said.

Mixed reactions: A slow start

The first day of 4G sales at EE's Oxford Street store proved to be a muted affair with only a smattering of customers interested in the phone company's premium service. Those who had visited the shop specifically to sign up to 4G cited its signal strength and speed.

Omar Ghamrawy, from east London, said: "The benefit of 4G is it's five times faster, that's what they said. I just got the iPhone 5 yesterday so I thought there's no use in getting it without getting the 4G Sim card. I don't go outside central London so I'm not concerned about poor signal. It's only £26 a month if you're paying monthly, and £21 if it's a 12-month contract."

Another customer questioned the benefit of signing up to the network. "The whole point of having 4G is that you have unlimited amounts of data at your fingertips, but if you're limited [in data by your tariff] then there's no point, " he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
music
News
i100
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

    Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

    £24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

    Marketing Account Manager / Client Liaison Manager

    £25 - 32k DOE: Guru Careers: A digital-savvy Marketing Account Manager / Clien...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Executive

    £23-30k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking bright Business Developmen...

    Inside Sales Manager – SaaS based solutions

    25-30k + Comms + Benefits: Sphere Digital Recruitment: A rapidly expanding tag...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes