4G or not 4G? If you want a fast, affordable connection, Three's Ultrafast 3G network is better

Whether to shell out for an overpriced LTE contract, or embrace Three’s new ‘Ultrafast’ 3G network until 4G matures and becomes more affordable? Our expert casts his vote

Share

After EE’s recent push to promote their new 4G LTE mobile network in the UK, I took some time to compare their price plans, and theoretical data speeds, against Three’s recently announced ‘Ultrafast’ 3G network.

4G vs Three’s dual bandwidth 3G Network

Rather than wait until next years 4G wireless spectrum auction, Three UK decided to upgrade their existing 3G network to take advantage of a wireless technology called DC-HSDPA, which stands for ‘Dual cell/carrier High-Speed Downlink Packet Access’.

In layman's terms, DC-HSDPA technology doubles the bandwidth of the 3G network, offering twice the download speed found on Three’s current HSPA+ network. The beauty of such a technology is that Three have been able to integrate it seamlessly into their current 3G network. Three’s DC-HSDPA enabled infrastructure already covers 40% of the UK, with 50% coverage promised by Christmas.

In comparison, EE’s 4G network currently covers just 11 major UK cities, which will expand to 16 by the end of the year. So unless you spend all of your time in one of the cities that support 4G, you’ll be dropping back down to standard 3G whenever you lose LTE coverage.

Three’s improved network is proving to be very impressive so far, but their main hurdle is persuading the general public that their 3G is currently better than 4G. Luckily for Three they have the advantage of price.

It’s not all about coverage, let’s talk money

With 4G price plans ranging from £36 for 500MB, up to £56 for 8GB, EE’s 4G prices are far from attractive. To put EE’s lowest 4G data allowance into perspective, 500MB will get you less than 5 episodes of Eastenders on the BBC iPlayer, and that’s when set to ‘mobile quality’. That doesn't look very pretty on a modern high resolution smartphone like the iPhone 5 or Nexus 4.

Let’s compare the price of a 4G/DC-HSDPA capable smartphone, in this case the iPhone 5, in order to demonstrate the difference in pricing across both networks with the same monthly cost.

A 16GB iPhone 5 on EE’s lowest priced 24 month tariff will set you back £36 per month, with an upfront fee of £179.99. This plan offers just 500MB of mobile data.

The same 16GB iPhone 5 on Three’s DC-HSDPA enabled 3G network, will also cost you £36 per month on a 24 month contract. The upfront cost however, is just £99. That’s £81 cheaper than EE’s equivalent offering from day one. With this plan you’ll also get UNLIMITED mobile data.

To summarise, at the same monthly price as EE’s cheapest 4G tariff, you're getting Three's ‘One Plan’, their top-tier price plan with completely unlimited data. On top of that, you’re saving £81 before you even start using the contract.

What’s more, if you’re already on Three and have a DC-HSDPA capable device, such as the iPhone 5, iPad 4, or Nexus 4, then you’ll already have access to Three’s ‘Ultrafast’ network. Because DC-HSDPA is being integrated into the current 3G network, you’ll have access to the upgraded service without any additional charge.

OK, so how do the speeds compare? 4G is obviously much faster, right?

Not really, no. Let’s ignore theoretical speeds because they have no validity in the real world. Instead let’s concentrate on what both networks state their realistic average speeds to be.

EE are claiming average 4G network speeds of up to 12MB per second, whereas Three claim their improved 3G network will offer average speeds in excess of 10MB per second. Right now, on a standard 3G phone, I get an average of 5MB per second. If Three’s network offers twice the download bandwidth of HSPA+, then the figures they are claiming are realistic.

Even at half those speeds you’ll easily be able to download a 500MB movie or game in under an hour. On EE’s cheapest tariff, you’d be out of data within a few minutes. With Three’s ‘One Plan’, you’d be able to carry on downloading whatever you want, with no data limits, for the duration of your contract. Not a bad deal.

Conclusion

Unless you really need the fastest mobile data connection possible for a specific reason, and money is not an issue, then EE’s 4G network is not ideal for you. On the other hand, if you’re like most of the population who just want a fast connection at an affordable price, with the widespread coverage, then I would highly recommend getting a DC-HSDPA capable smartphone or tablet on Three’s improved 3G network.

Three's network has been tried and tested, and users who are able to experience DC-HSDPA have seen impressive speeds already. EE's network is fast but needs to grow and mature.

Ultimately, with DC-HSDPA you’ll be experiencing mobile data speeds faster than the average UK home broadband connection, with coverage that far exceeds that of 4G. In a year or so, when 4G LTE coverage is more widespread, and competition drives down pricing, things will be a little different. Until then, in my opinion, DC-HSDPA is hands down the best choice.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin