The EE 4G roll-out is largely delivering on its public promises, and is a measured success when compared to similar roll-outs in the United States, according to independent research by mobile network testing company RootMetrics.
Following the launch of EE's 4G network in October 2012, there were many competitive claims that the service would under-deliver. Indeed, some EE customers were disappointed with the service, claiming that the speed increase was barely noticeable and that 4G coverage was patchy.
However, tests conducted in three major UK cities – Liverpool, Cardiff and Sheffield (including their suburbs) – reveal that reliability is high and speeds meet those EE has pledged to achieve, though the speeds are lower than the full potential of 4G.
EE claims that the average speed of its 4G network is 8-12 Mbps. Liverpool and Cardiff met the bar with download speeds of 9.4 Mbps and 11.8 Mbps respectively. Sheffield just missed the mark with an average download speed of 7.9 Mbps, though within the margin of error at the low end of EE’s commitment.
In each case, the speed is more than twice as fast as the next fastest network (Vodafone in Liverpool, Three in Cardiff and Sheffield), and fast enough that a consumer would see a true difference in performance with things like HD video and posting photos to social media, according to RootMetrics.
Indoor speeds were lower than outdoor speeds in Sheffield and Cardiff, but in Liverpool there was very little difference between the two, so there is currently no broad evidence to support competitors' claims that EE’s network falls down on indoor service. Further research is being conducted in this area.
RootMetrics notes that, while the speeds seen in UK cities are good, EE is not necessarily taking full advantage of 4G’s capabilities. When AT&T launched its 4G service in Dallas, for example, average download speeds jumped from 4.3 Mbps to 17.2 Mbps.
Indeed, the gap between 4G’s potential and EE’s promised speed is revealed when looking at the speeds achieved when using only 4G. (The speeds cited above are based on a typical customer experience of the network, which switches between 4G and non-4G according to signal strength.)
In Cardiff, the 4G-only average download speed was 16.2 Mbps – nearly 40 percent faster than the average download speed of 4G and non-4G. In Liverpool, the 4G-only average download speed was 14.4 Mbps – 34.7 percent faster than the average download speed of 4G and non-4G.
“The launch of 4G in the UK will bring a massive change, and while the mobile industry has been wrapped up in claims and counter-claims, consumers have been left wondering whether 4G is really all that exciting,” said Bill Moore, CEO and President at RootMetrics.
“EE’s 4G network has lived up to its own promises: speeds are meeting EE’s pledges and indoor performance is reasonably good. At the same time, the technology is more powerful than the bar that has been set, and there should be room for further improvement.”
RootMetrics found significant regional variations in availability of the service between the cities. Within the city centres, the company was able to make and keep a 4G connection 71.3 percent of the time in Cardiff, compared to 58.7 percent in Liverpool and 48.5 percent in Sheffield. These numbers are in line with similar rollouts in the US.
However, the tests indicated that 4G has not been deployed widely (or is not available at all) outside the city boundaries. This is to be expected given EE’s promise to launch in “cities,” but RootMetrics makes the point that many of these areas are economically or functionally linked to the core city.
“We see the percentage of 4G improving in line with other launches, but there are some notable variations,” said Moore. “Anyone wanting to upgrade to 4G should first check how good their coverage would be before they buy.”
The results are based on 95,762 separate on-the-ground readings taken by professional testers taking measurements indoors, outdoors and while driving.