4G hands-on: Testing the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 on EE's network

4G hands-on: Testing the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 on EE's network

Summary: EE is poised to unleash 4G LTE services on the UK. ZDNet got hands-on with the network to find out just how fast the first UK-wide 4G network really is.


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  • David Salem, director of network strategy for EE, told me that the company was expecting to offer a service that delivered a solid 8Mbps — 12Mbps service to its users.

    In the picture above, the iPhone 5's 4G download speeds (around 7.5Mbps) seemed to fare worse than the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, centre (just under 15Mbps), or Huawei Ascend P1 LTE, right (just under 30Mbps).

    Salem was unable to give any indication of end-user pricing or when exactly 4G would be available but did confirm that EE is now testing it in two more cities (Leeds and Sheffield) ahead of the rollout.

    He added that EE did not want to rush the introduction of the service as it was important to learn from the testing in order to get the service right.

    "It's essential that we go through quality testing of the network, we want 4G to be the right experience for people when we are there," Salem said. "We need to make sure it's fully integrated with the 2G/3G networks that we have today, so it's seamless to move calls, traffic between those networks."

    "It's important that the data rates, emergency calls are tested, proven and high quality... So you have the same service experience that you have on the 2G and 3G networks we have today," he added.

    Image: Ben Woods

  • Salem also said the company had been upgrading its 2G and 3G technology at the same time as upgrading cell sites to be able to handle 4G technology. Included in the upgrades was fibre-based gigabit ethernet backhaul. 

    "An important part of the rollout phase of 4G is that there is a really strong 3G network behind it as well," Salem said. "In order to have credible 4G, you need to have credible 3G as your fallback. You can't have such a huge speed drop as you go beyond the edge of coverage. It takes years to do that."

    The image above shows a 4G-enabled iPhone 5 speed test history that illustrates the problems of variability and use-load. The same speed tests run within just minutes of each other returned results between just over 5.5Mbps and just under 40Mbps.

    Image: Ben Woods

Topics: 4G, Mobility, Smartphones, Telcos, United Kingdom

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • Download speeds

    "In the picture above, the iPhone 5's 4G download speeds (around 7.5Mbps) seemed to fair worse than the Samsung Galaxy S3, centre (just under 15Mbps), or Huawei Ascend P1 LTE, right (just under 30Mbps)."

    What would make one phone download so much faster than the other on 4G?
    If I'm thinking in PC terms, the speed bottleneck is usually the internet provider and not the PC hardware or modem. Is it the case that mobile phone hardware is not ready for these speeds yet?
    • Reliable data rates

      I think it highlights a few things about this technology.

      Data rates will depend on the mobile phone as the chipset used will be different (a bit like different performance on WiFi connections).

      But what it also highlights is that in a controlled environment (as Mytheroo points out next to the transceiver with negligible traffic loading) there is still massive swings in performance on the same device. For the iPhone it goes from 5 to 40Mbps. That is a massive swing in speed - although 5Mbps is still in my opinion an acceptable speed.

      This should become part of a standard review just like battery life is now?
  • 3G

    Having been with Orange for the last 7 - 8 years, I've noticed their 3G service has become shockingly bad over roughly the time since they started merging services with T-Mobile. I guess I'll need 4G to get decent service in future.
  • 3g vs 4g LTE

    A good 3g signal suits pretty much everything you can throw at a phone (tablets and 3g netbooks etc will benefit) so for phone users the only interesting stuff is where the 2100Mhz 3g signal isn't strong enough for streaming video but maybe the 1800Mhz 4g LTE is.
    Standing next to the transceiver is a pretty irrelevant test for me :-)