September 26, 2012

4G Phones in the UK : What the heck ?

4G Phones4G wireless is launching in the UK before Xmas this year with EE ( Everything Everywhere ) but what about 4G phones will they work ? This can be very baffling for the average UK person pounding the UK High Streets or the internet for a 4G Phone.

Some people will not of heard of 4G wireless yet , some may have heard of 4G and are considering a 4G phone while others want a 4G phone right now. This article will help anyone wanting to buy a 4G phone in the next 12 months.

The first important point is that no 4G networks exist in the UK at the current time yet one 4G enabled phone is already being sold with many more lined up for release prior to Xmas this year. We feel that many people when hearing that 4G is launching in the UK ( before Xmas ) are likely to assume that a phone they buy will work on 4G, when in fact it may not. Worse is that a 4G phone on one network will work on 4G but only have 3G on another network. This is where see many people buying phones with long contracts only to learn sometime later that phone wont work on 4G at all.

To find out all about the position with all the mobile operators and their 4G launch status head here 4G in the UK – what the heck ?

To summarise the above, we will look at the first 4G enabled phone launched in the UK and explain if it will work on 4G or 3G. The 4G phone we will look at is of course the iPhone 5 and this is the phone we will concentrate on as an example.

The first point is that all UK mobile phone operators are selling the iPhone 5 which is 4G enabled yet currently it will only work on a 3G network. The first time we will see an iPhone 5 working on 4G in the UK is when EE ( Everything Everywhere which owns Orange and T-Mobile ) physically launch the first 4G network in the UK sometime this year. Even then it will only be initially launched in 16 cities so your iPhone 5 will work as a 4G phone in those 16 cities and revert back to 3G when outside a 4G signal area.

The iPhone 5 works on 850MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz in Europe and EE are using the 1800MHz frequency band for their 4G network. This is how the iPhone 5 will work on EE’s 4G network with faster download speeds of five times faster than a 3G enabled iPhone 5. Yes, a 4G enabled iPhone 5 on a 4G network is 5 times faster than an iPhone 5 on a 3G network – which one do you want we wonder. The iPhone 5 is 4G enabled and will work on EE’s 4G network and EE’s 4G network will go live sometime before Xmas this year.

Because the only authorised 4G frequency band in the UK is the 1800MHz band in the UK,  it means that Vodafone, O2 and Three have been unable to fast-track their 4G networks like EE. These three mobile operators have planned to use 4G spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands. However, these are not planned to be auctioned until Spring 2013 and finalised in the Summer of 2013. Neither Vodafone, O2 or Three are likely to launch 4G until around September, 2013.

This means that anyone buying the iPhone 5 on Vodafone, O2 and Three may be disappointed to find out that it will not work at 4G speeds. The pure fact of the matter is that they don’t have a 4G network and even worse is that even if these mobile operators had a 4G network live in the UK, the iPhone 5 would still not work because it is not compatible with the iPhone 5’s 4G chip which is designed to work at a different frequency. What this really means is that anyone who buys a iPhone 5 on these three networks will need to buy a new iPhone ( at a later time ) to take advantage of 4G speeds. This will cost you extra money of course.

We have highlighted this problem using the iPhone 5 as an example as it is the only 4G enabled phone currently on sale in the UK. The same problem will likely exist with other 4G enabled smartphones released in the UK for say the next 12 months. So if you are intending to buy a 4G smartphone in the UK in the next 12 months please be aware and ask the mobile operators the right questions before you get into a long contract.