For Everything Everywhere, the euphoria of its 4G spectrum licence land-grab could be short-lived if it cannot quickly show the benefits that high-speed data offers for watching video on the move. It does face problems, chief among which is its flagship 1800Mhz frequency.
When rival operators launch their 4G services on the 800Mhz frequency next year, iPhone-holding EE customers could find themselves locked onto a frequency with more variable coverage – with 24-month contracts.
Which does beg the question: why switch to 4G now? Ofcom says it's to bring the UK into line with the rest of the high-tech world; others claim it means remote areas will be able to get usable broadband. Cynics say it's an opportunity for the Government to get more revenue from the sale of radio spectrum licences and for mobile operators to sell new handsets and contracts.
The selling point of 4G will be being able to get TV and play computer games on the move, which sounds uncannily like the promise of WAP at the turn of the century and the launch of the 3G licences whose purchase crippled BT with debt.
Despite the hype, 4G will not initially be able to deliver much. The Government wants it to reach 98 per cent of homes by 2017, but EE has gone to only 11 cities at launch. Its early-adopters will get a good service in the city centre and while in sight of the mast, but it will fall off quickly towards the outskirts of town.
Initially mobile companies will be bulking your service with Wi-Fi by piggy-backing on to public hotspots that you could have used anyway. Without Wi-Fi back-up, the service will be no better than the current 3G experience until something is done about modern communications on the train network.
Bright, high resolution screens playing films also mean that batteries will drain fast – so if you were going to invest in 4G for the telly on the way home, don't hold your breath.
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