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First tests of EE 4G network show inconsistent coverage

Warwick Ashford

The first tests of EE's 4G network showed less than half of Manchester city centre was covered by the high-speed mobile network and 4G connections were inconsistent.

Only 42.2% of test locations had 4G access, while outside Manchester city centre there was no coverage at all, in tests conducted in November, mobile coverage firm RootMetrics told the BBC.

When EE launched its 4G network, rivals questioned whether its 1,800MHz spectrum band would provide good indoor coverage. But 93% of indoor tests were successful, compared with 97% of outdoor tests.

The tests also showed that, in locations that had access 4G, the average speed was 17Mbps. Across all locations EE averaged download speeds of 7.6Mbps, compared with Vodafone, which achieved download speeds of 3.1Mbps in previous tests.

In 31% of tests, speeds of more than 10Mbps were recorded; 9% recorded speeds of 6-10Mbps; 18% recorded speeds of 3-6Mbps; and 23% recorded speeds of 1.5-3Mbps.

Only 19% recorded speeds of less than 1.5Mbps, but RootMetrics said in previous tests, 46% of tests for other mobile operators performed at these low speeds.

According to RootMetrics, the UK 4G roll-out reflected those in the US, where deployments had typically launched with 30% to 60% coverage.

EE has deployed 4G in 11 UK cities, with a plan to increase this to 16 by the end of 2012.

RootMetrics plans to test 4G services in other cities around the UK and publish the findings on its website.

Wi-Fi or 4G?

Despite the hype around 4G networks, however, some telecoms providers believe Wi-Fi may deliver a more practical way for mobile devices to deliver high-speed broadband connections.

According to networking firm Enterasys, the focus on 4G overlooks the potential of Wi-Fi to provide reliable and consistent broadband connectivity.

Mark Pearce, strategic alliance director for Enterasys Networks, said the current Wi-Fi standard (802.11n) delivers better than 4G performance now. In the next 12 months – when the new standard (802.11ac) comes in – consistent gigabyte connectivity will be a reality, said Pearce.  
 
He claims Enterasys has solved the high-density issue which has historically limited Wi-Fi, making it a better bet to provide the all-pervasive internet connectivity.

“It is likely that 4G and Wi-Fi will happily co-exist, but Enterasys’ focus on Wi-Fi and cloud is supported by Cisco's recent acquisition of [cloud-based network supplier] Meraki,” said Pearce.

“This gives a huge indication of where the industry feels the connectivity battle will be fought/won in a clear move to focus on cloud delivery to supply usable connectivity,” he said.


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