With O2 and Vodafone launching their 4G service last week today, a study of 2,500 broadband users by broadbandchoices.co.uk found that whilst 81% know what 4G is, only 8% have actually used a 4G network.
One in five people think that 4G will not improve their current service, and 34% say they don’t need 4G – despite mobile broadband speeds that are typically five times faster than 3G can support, and in some cases ten times faster.
Downloading a five minute video takes four minutes on 3G, versus less than one minute on 4G, and a two hour movie would take over three and a half hours via 3G, whereas if using 4G it would only take just over 30 minutes.
A third (35%), believe it would be too expensive to switch to the speedier services. However the reality is that SIM-only tariffs are available from £21 a month with the existing 4G provider, EE.
O2 and Vodafone are both launching with basic tariffs of £26 per month. Three has also announced that it will automatically upgrade customers with a 4G ready device at the end of 2013, charging 3G prices for a 4G service.
Coverage was another issue highlighted in the study with 21% believing that 4G isn’t available in their area, despite new cities being given 4G access every month. EE has pledged to cover 98% of the UK by the end of 2014, while O2 say they will cover 98% of the country by 2015.
Vodafone is launching in London first with plans to roll out to 12 other cities including Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield by the end of this year and Three’s 4G service will cover 98% of the population by the end of 2015.
Some broadband customers now use 4G mobile broadband in place of land lines, as they are unable to achieve comparable speeds with a fixed connection.
Fraser Neeson, a service engineer from Slough, ended up cancelling his fixed line broadband service and using 4G exclusively: “I use my mobile to stream films and TV content while I’m out and about. I previously used a 3G service which was okay for emails but often frustrating for anything bigger. Since I made the switch to 4G not only has it improved internet on the go, but it’s also allowed me to ditch my fixed line broadband provider at home. The 4G is faster than my old fixed line package and as I’m now only paying one bill for my broadband 4G has saved me some money too.”
Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk said; “More people are aware of 4G now compared to when it first launched last year, but most still do not understand the difference it will make to their experience as a mobile user. People we questioned felt it was too expensive or didn’t think they needed it just yet, whilst others couldn’t afford it or simply couldn’t get it in their area.
“Just like the black and white televisions of yesteryear, 3G is doing a perfectly good job for millions of customers – but 4G is the technicolor revolution. Whether you ‘need’ it or not, 4G offers broadband speeds that are typically five times faster than 3G can support and in some cases ten times faster. The advantages are obvious as soon as you use it and experience first-hand how quickly you can access the content you want whilst on the go.
“If you are making the jump to 4G, look beyond price and consider things like network coverage, speeds and data limits in particular as data is being charged at a premium on 4G services. Crucially, think about whether you have a 4G-ready device as only certain phones and tablets will work on 4G so you could need a replacement – another expense to fork out for.”
Top tips for getting a 4G service from broadbandchoices.co.uk
1. Check your handset: Be aware that although Vodafone, EE and O2 are all offering 4G services, they use slightly different ‘frequency bands’ to transmit their signal, so one 4G ready phone that is adapted to EE may not necessarily work should you eventually decide to switch to O2, Vodafone or Three when they launch. For example, the current iPhone 5 will accept 4G connectivity on the bands which EE have exclusivity on but not O2 or Vodafone’s frequency. Speak to your provider if you are unsure what your current phone will accept.
2. Monitor your data: Unfortunately, some of the download limits on these 4G packages are rather disappointing considering there are many 3G tariffs available now that come with unlimited data usage. The whole point of getting 4G is to enjoy superfast internet browsing and a few GBs of data will not last very long, so it is a little like buying a Ferrari then being told you can only drive for 1 mile up the road before you have to slam on the brakes. Download a free app from your network to monitor your data consumption and avoid incurring ‘excess usage’ fees that can increase your bill. Three is the only provider to announce they will have unlimited data packages as part of their 4G offering, and customers will have to wait until the end of 2013 to enjoy these.
3. Make use of Wi-Fi: Discipline yourself to only using your 4G connection when there is no other alternative available as this will help stretch your data limit further until the end of the month. When you are at home, switch to your home broadband signal and if you find yourself in a Wi-Fi hotspot whilst out and about, make use of it. This will ensure that your data allowance does not go up in smoke just halfway through the month. EE, O2 and Vodafone 4G plans all include access to Wi-Fi hotspots.
4. Test the water: If you are unsure that 4G will be an improvement on 3G, it would be worth trying it out first. O2 are allowing all customers to take 4G on a 3 month trial basis, allowing them to cancel if they decide it is not for them. Be aware however that O2 will only allow these customers to downgrade to a 3G deal, rather than cancelling their O2 contract altogether – so be sure you want to go with O2 for the long term either way.
5. Stick with 3G: If you know that you need unlimited data you are probably better off staying with an unlimited 3G service – at least until unlimited 4G data allowances become available.