Jan 22, 2013 1
A few quick notes after my first month-and-a-bit as a field-triallist* for EE of their 4G mobile data service.
After Andrew Grill had a rough experience trying to be a 4G early adopter, he worked with EE to try and make something constructive from the experience. His original blog post about it had got a lot of attention, so he proposed giving five ‘advocates‘ the chance to use the service, and write honestly about it. I am one of those users, and my mobile data needs are pretty demanding.
As a photographer, I’m uploading content every day. Lots of it. I also need to look at a fair few images, but it’s the upward speed that would make a real difference to me. When I can’t get hold of decent, fast, reliable wifi – so that includes most events – I turn to my Three all-you-can-eat data plan.
That’s pretty good, and I’ve had speeds around 11/3 (up/down in Mbps) with a general expectation of about 6/2 and a regular 8/1.5 at home. (Yes, at home. Broadband here delivers a measly 2/0.4, and often bogs down completely.)
So how has EE been working? Well, sadly I live just outside the 4G coverage, near the M25, but the H+ service is still a bit faster than Three’s (at 10/1.6). Though it does seem to drop out for no apparent reason about once an hour, requiring a handset restart and relinking to its wifi to pick back up again. So I’ve found myself tending to use Three instead, as that remains uninterrupted for as long as needed.
In 4G territory though, it’s devastatingly fast. The best I’ve seen (in Shoreditch) was 26/12, but I’d say in London generally 18/5 is more representative. Still incredibly fast, though. Twice I’ve seen uploads at 20Mbps when testing.
But it’s not about the numbers, really. Has this made me more effective in my work? The picture is still a little mixed so far. The first reason for this is that at speeds that fast, the 8GB package that we’re on (that’s the maximum being offered to the market at the moment by EE although I’ve had two arguments with people now who swear they know someone who’s on a bigger limit) gets eaten up very quickly. After four days of usage (and not that heavy, I think) I saw I’d churned through 5.6GB, so had to back off a lot for the rest of the month. Not that I was worried about getting hit with a surcharge, I think they’ll let me off that, but because I really wanted to see what happened in trying to living within the confines of the tariff.
As a result, I didn’t hit the sweet spot of combined a) poor wifi, b) a fat 4G signal, c) a pressing need and d) confidence that I had the headroom left in my allowance for another month. Which is an interesting first finding, I think.
The second cause for pause is that a couple of times I’ve had tests showing me a 6-10Mbps upstream connection, but Dropbox synchronisation has remained stubbornly slow. Flickr and Dropbox are my two big uploading destinations. Yet when I switch to Three, I get a much faster upload. I will test this further, controlling as far as possible for different factors, and report.
But yesterday, at an event in Westminster, it all came together. I got Flickr uploads with amazing speed and consistency, the purple bar racing across the screen as fast as I’ve ever seen it (with the one notable exception of Google’s Victoria office, where it actually warmed the screen a little as it moved.) So it really will work. More testing required.
[The image at the top of the post is very unfair. But it made me smile. In a remote Derbyshire village it was amusing to see a signal so low it barely registered.]
UPDATE2 8pm, 24 Jan
Might be helpful to show the 4G service performing through the laptop:
vs the in-house offering:
But more importantly, mine actually performed consistently faster for actual uploading, and was stable. And mine. Etc. (How that changes as the 4G network comes under greater load, time will tell.)
UPDATE1 4pm, 22 Jan
As luck would have it, a few hours after I wrote this EE announced a big increase in the maximum allowance available and price cuts.
*Best shorthand I can think of, really. I’m not a formal tester, or reviewer, and certainly not a company stooge for EE. This small group is using the service to see how it performs in reality, and writing about it occasionally. The service has been provided for free for a year but no other fee comes with it.