Three gives forgotten child 4G some much-needed attention

With 5G networks being switched on left, right and centre, let’s not forget 4G experience is still going to be the major concern of the vast majority of users for a long-time to come.

In its pursuit of a more established ranking in the UK mobile league, Three has announced a number of initiatives to improve the 4G experience for its customers. 5G might dominate the headlines, but 4G is going to dictate the fortunes of the telcos for some time.

“5G is a game changer for Three’s current and future customers. It will bring faster speeds, a better experience and masses of capacity which will benefit our 4G customers as well,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “While we are investing heavily in 5G, 4G is still very important for our mobile and home broadband services.

“These upgrades will ensure that our data hungry customers are getting the best possible 4G experience as 5G rolls out.”

The two initiatives announced here will continue to build the 4G experience for customers. Firstly, the introduction of new spectrum and site upgrades. Secondly, the re-farming of 3G spectrum to further bolster the armoury in the fight for 4G supremacy.

6,000 mobile sites, which account for 80% of the traffic which flows across the Three network, will get an upgrade. These upgrades, which will run alongside the 5G deployment initiatives, will include new antennas and new spectrum. Three is claiming the introduction of 1400 MHz spectrum should increase download speeds by 150%, assuming of course you have the right device.

Although the range of compatible devices is quite large, a simpler way to describe it would be any device which has been released in the last 12-18 months. For those who have older devices, Three suggests the download speed gain could be as much as 50%. It’s not necessarily a mind-blowing number in comparison to others which are floating around the mobile domain, but it would certainly make a notable impact on experience.

The second initiative involves the 3G spectrum. All of the telcos are undertaking the process of re-farming 3G spectrum for higher purposes, but Three does seem to be leading the way. As part of the announcement today, Three is suggesting 12,500 sites will see speed improvements of up to 40% as 3G spectrum is handed over to 4G.

Looking at the bigger picture, none of the telcos can forget about 4G. 5G might be much more attractive to the consumer (the bigger, meaner, faster mentality is very strong), but for years to come the 4G networks will continue to define user experience.

Firstly, you have to look at the adoption of 5G tariffs. This will of course depend on the user purchasing an expensive 5G-compatible device, but then also signing-up to a 5G contract. It will take time for this migration to occur, and we suspect it will be years before economies of scale bring down the price of the devices, opening the euphoria up to the mass market.

Secondly, you have to consider how long it will be until the telcos are demonstrate ubiquity for their 5G networks. Not only does this mean upgrading all mobile sites across the country, but it also means network densification initiatives to compensate for shorter spectrum range and mobile radio propagation. The work to ensure the 5G world is everywhere, all the time, is only just beginning.

Both of these factors mean 4G will be just as, or more important than 5G over the next few years. 5G might generate headlines, but 4G will continue to drive revenues.

EE wins the grand slam in latest OpenSignal UK report

The latest OpenSignal report shows EE has come on top in all five categories, though the winning margin in video experience was narrow.

The latest report on the UK’s mobile network experience published by the network rating firm OpenSignal pitted the country’s four nationwide operators against each other on five measurements: 4G Availability, Video Experience, Download Speed, Upload Speed, and Latency. EE has won every category.

Although EE has been in a leading position in delivering mobile experience, the competition was closer in previous OpenSignal assessments. A year ago EE and Vodafone tied in two out of four categories. Half a year ago, Vodafone was still on par with EE on delivering the lowest latency. But the BT-owned operator has opened up a gap over its competitors in most measurements lately.

The one area that EE was not a comfortable winner was video experience. As we reported earlier, higher download speed does not necessarily deliver the best video experience, according to OpenSignal’s analysis. Other technologies including traffic management and latency minimisation also feature in the evaluation. Therefore although EE’s download speed is more than 40% faster than its closest competition (Vodafone) and it also has registered the lowest latency, EE only marginally beat Vodafone in video experience. It actually came the last if video experience had been judged on 3G only (3 came on top). But thanks to the superior 4G availability EE customers would not need to fall back on 3G much when streaming video.

The report also provides regional comparison, with the country broken down to twelve regions: Eastern, East Midlands, London, North East, Northern Ireland, North West, Scotland, South East, South West, Wales, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber. The report dismissed the so-called “North/South divide” as a myth, with some of the “top scores appearing in the North East, North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber regions”. In an earlier report measuring 4G speed, the firm also noted that London was only mid-table, with the highest 4G download speeds registered in places like Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham.

Here are the countrywide results:

OpenSignal_chart 4G Availability April 2019

OpenSignal_chart Video Experience April 2019

OpenSignal_chart Download Speed April 2019

OpenSignal_chart Upload Speed April 2019

OpenSignal_chart Latency April 2019