EE's got its test network up and running and is in the process of gearing up for a nationwide launch in the very near future. We took the time to pop down and have a hands-on play with an iPhone 5 hooked onto EE's 4G LTE network. Here's what 4G's really going to be like, once you get it in your hands.
Surprise! LTE is miles faster than 3G. In our testing with the iPhone 5 in the centre of London, we easily clocked up download speeds of 10-40Mbps with uploads in the 14Mbps realm on the iPhone 5. Now, that's not quite the same blazing speeds we saw on O2's test network with 4G dongles, but that's to a phone, not a computer. If EE's shiny new 4G network manages real-world speeds in the region of 30Mbps, we'll all be very pleased indeed. That's faster than quite a lot of people's home broadband.
One of the biggest benefits of LTE over existing 3G and 3.5G networking technologies are the vastly reduced ping times. By that I mean the click-to-bang times -- how long it takes to respond to your command. There are many reasons for that, not least the number of technical hurdles to jump over between your 3G phone and the outside world, which have simply been removed in the 4G specifications of LTE.
On the street, that means there'll be less waiting for that initial burst of action. Yes the download speeds mean you'll actually grab things faster, but ping times in the 50ms range, which is what we managed in testing, will reduce the perceived waiting time by quite a bit. Your average 3G ping time is in excess of 100ms, which means EE's 4G network should cut that in half.
In talking to those using the 4G-equipped variants of 3G phone as their main device, using LTE made a small dent in the battery life of the phone. That's not really a surprise, but perhaps the interesting thing is that it didn't make quite as much difference as you might expect. Approximate figures might be a 10 per cent increase in battery drain, which isn't bad at all. Frankly, that's because we're late to the 4G game here in the UK. LTE-packing devices, with 4G chipsets are pretty mature, which means none of the bleeding edge, barely-out-of-beta devices that you might have experienced when 3G first arrived. I guess that's about the only benefit of the UK being so late to the 4G game.
4G on your phone isn't quite going to be revolutionary, but it will bring with it the convenience and performance of fibre broadband while on the go, and that's pretty damn awesome. No waiting for videos to load, or web pages, or twitter streams for that matter. In fact, we're probably at the stage where the speed of the device is now the limiting factor, not your connection speed. It's a good job those LTE-packing devices boast beastly processing specs too.
It's worth noting that where EE's installed 4G equipment and boosted the backhaul to the masts that handle it, the 3G network broadcast by the same masts has gotten a big upgrade too as a side effect. That meant that where we were testing EE's LTE network, the EE 3G network showed great download speeds and low ping times. So, whether you're looking at getting a new 4G phone or not, anyone on EE's network is going to see improved speeds and performance on 3G without having to do anything. Everyone wins.