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14 October 20131 Comment by Jon M

Three becomes 4(G)

3 ultrafast

Three Mobile have recently announced more details about the rollout of their forthcoming 4G mobile internet services. Although they are the last network in the UK to announce the full details of their plans, they have now confirmed which regions will receive 4G signal this year.

The rollout has been pencilled in for the latter half of 2013 for a while, but is only just now that we’re getting a clearer timeframe. Three have announced that, initially, only four cities will be able to use their superfast 4G service. These will be Birmingham, London, Manchester and, perhaps the surprise of the bunch, Reading.

These regions have clearly been chosen for a couple of reasons. Firstly they are all among the largest cities in the country and secondly they are all sprawling conurbations that also cover other highly-populated metropolitan areas. So, for example, people living in places such as Dudley, Alden, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton will also benefit from the 4G signal being broadcast in these areas.

Don’t worry if you don’t live in any of these regions though – Three have promised that they will up the pace of their rollout next year. There will be even more cities receiving high-speed 4G signal by the end of 2014. In fact, if you include smaller areas covered already by Birmingham, London Manchester and Reading this will bring the total to fifty. The cities that will be added next year are the following:

Aberdeen, Blackpool, Bolton, Bournemouth, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Dundee, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Gloucester, Huddersfield, Ipswich, Kingston Upon Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Milton Keynes, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Preston, Sheffield, Slough, Southampton, Southend On Sea, Stoke On Trent, Stockport, Swindon, Watford and York.

Three’s long-term plan is to have 98% of the UK population covered with 4G signal by the end of 2015. It has been a frustrating time as consumers have patiently waited for 4G to hit our shores. Thankfully, now all the rigmarole with the Ofcom auction is long behind us and it’s just up to the networks to get all the infrastructure in place to be turned on as soon as possible.

Some will wonder what is taking everyone so long since EE have had a working 4G signal for what is coming up to a year now and are in the middle of adding vast swathes of the country to their current regions. For those who don’t live inside some of the larger cities in the country, it will be far from reassuring to hear that it may be until the end of 2015 before they have any decent coverage.

After all, most Western European countries and the US as well as plenty of places in Asia have been using their high-speed 4G services for some time now. In these places, it has become the exception not to have 4G service and many couldn’t imagine going back to flaky, laggy 3G speeds. After all, Three have done little to explain why it’s going to take several years simply turn on a few cell towers and network switches. Even if they have to construct new antennae, it should not be such a laborious process.

Three is not the only network that is dragging its heels with its 4G rollout. We were disappointed to hear that even O2 and Vodafone don’t seem to be planning to prioritise this service. Both of their 4G services were activated at the end of August but their timescale for the rollout to large-scale regions seems to be on the order of years rather than weeks or months.

One can wonder whether this might be due to the increased costs 4G networks are facing due to the high bandwidth requirements of their customers, but even this conspiracy theory seems a little bit far-fetched. Still, at the end of the day, it is only customers who are losing out by this increasingly drawn-out process.

Even worse are the omissions on the list of cities due to get their 4G capability. After all, while it may seem impressive to have 50 cities covered by the end of 2014, no mention is made of the places that aren’t going to be covered. It seems a little bit absurd that massive cities such as Edinburgh, Swansea, Bath, and Worcester still won’t be covered even by the end of next year. Surely all the people who live in these areas that won’t have the option to use Three for their 4G coverage will feel that is a bit of an oversight that they have been left out?

At least Three is doing something right about its new 4G service. They are the only network who have announced that they will not be charging a premium for people who want to take up their offer. All the other networks have simply seen 4G as a way to squeeze more money out of their long-suffering customers. Instead, Three appear to be seeing it as a way to distinguish their service.

In fact, Three are traditionally one of the most internet-friendly mobile networks in the era of increasingly strict monthly data caps and bans on mobile tethering. They have long offered truly unlimited data plans and many other tariffs and stand by their word by not disconnecting even the customers with the heaviest usage.

We can only applaud this forward-thinking customer service as it makes those attempting to restrict people’s use of their mobiles appear to be simple Luddites in comparison. It it sheer madness not to realise that we will become ever more reliant on mobile data in the future and that attempting to hold people back by imposing artificial restrictions simply to save a few pennies in the short-term is damaging to all of us.

In light of this, we can see another positive to Three’s 4G offering despite the delays. As well as pledging not charge extra for fast Internet access, the company have also made it clear that they’ll be offering unlimited tariffs so youcan really make the most of your high-speed Internet connection. EE’s incredibly low data allowances have been harshly criticised as being about as useful as a chocolate teapot since the greater bandwidth offered by 4G means it is possible to burn through months worth of internet in just a few minutes. Critics have argued that there is no point having fast internet if you only end up being up to use it less as a result.

Do you live in any of the regions that will be seeing Three’s 4G service by the end of the year? Or have you tried 4G mobile Internet from one of the other network operators? You think is worth paying any extra money for or are you happy with 3G on your mobile? And you can choose any of the networks to be your 4G provider who would you choose and why?

One Response to “Three becomes 4(G)”

  1. Timple 17 October 2013 at 17:30 Permalink

    I think 4G is going to turn out to be the equivalent of 3D TVs. Current hype does not have a chance of delivering solid benefits claimed. For most people a combination of wifi at home and 3G in between is fine. It is an improvement – but a marginal one. The only really interesting scenario I can see is if speeds are really fast enough to supplant ADSL and avoid the necessity for line rental etc. Therefore threes approach to take it easy on the roll out and not charge premium for it is very rational.

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