In the 3G slow lane as EE gets ahead of itself
The recent announcement from UK mobile operator EE that it had completed the migration to a new core MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) network to better serve the needs of 4G subscribers, made me think that perhaps service providers are getting ahead of themselves here.
After being on a 2G and 2.5G (GPRS/EDGE) network with Vodafone for around 15 years, I decided to “upgrade” to a 3G network. As well as being a network speed laggard, for my sins I am also a dedicated BlackBerry user.
I wanted a BlackBerry Bold, in my humble opinion one of the best BlackBerry smartphones ever made – before the company started quickly going down the pan. Obviously, as a device laggard too – I’d be using a 2.5G BlackBerry Curve for the previous two years – there weren’t that many Bold’s around when I was looking to upgrade to 3G. Vodafone never had one so I went to T-Mobile who did.
What I pay for the phone and service is very good on paper, the only problem is that I barely ever get a 3G signal, and if I didn’t have WiFi in the home I would barely even get any data services. It should also be noted that voice calls constantly drop and SMS text messages are never sent in an instant. And all this when paying for a T-Mobile business service too.
Yes, I have rung T-Mobile a couple of times, who have kindly informed me that there is “no service issue in my area” – a very busy suburb in York, North Yorkshire, which is around two miles from the city centre. York has a population of over 200,000 and is a very fast growing city, having approximately doubled in size since the 1980s – EE has also launched its 4G service here.
In its core network upgrade announcement, which involved using network technology from Juniper Networks, EE confirmed the better connectivity would be used to serve 3G subscribers too. But we haven’t seen any improvement here and I suspect many others on 3G with EE are still being left frustrated too.
Friends of mine outside the networking and telecoms business, and in other parts of the country, are convinced that EE and other 4G operators are either deliberately putting 3G subscribers in the slow lane or that the growing number of 4G subscribers are taking away all their bandwidth.
All I can say is that EE – I can only comment on what I have seen on the T-Mobile network – is playing a very dangerous game if any of the above is remotely true.
EE claims its 4G coverage already reaches 72 percent of the UK population, but with what I want to do I shouldn’t need it.
I only want to visit web pages, make calls and send texts – I don’t want to watch football or view films on my 2 inch BlackBerry screen.
And I’m seemingly not alone. In Ericsson’s recently published Mobility Report it is estimated that 4G/LTE coverage in Europe is expected to reach 80 percent by 2019, but that subscriptions to such services are only expected to achieve 30 percent penetration.
In response to the Ericsson report, Askar Sheibani, CEO of telecoms repair and support firm Comtek, argues that this is a prime reason why operators must step up their efforts in maintaining 2G and 3G networks.
He says, “4G may be a great movement for the telecoms industry, but operators must be able to support this with a rock solid 2G and 3G infrastructure, if they are to keep customers happy, connected and subscribing. Many communities, particular in rural areas, rely on these networks.”
He adds, “The current situation, where many regions are lacking a mobile phone service to make even basic calls, and where 3G connectivity is patchy at best, is leaving consumers and businesses unsatisfied and sceptical of operator promises of a ‘next generation’ network.”
Sheibani rightly says that operators “need to invest in 2G and 3G networks, before getting swept away with the 4G and 5G tide”.
Peter O’Donnell, head of transport network design and planning at EE, says its new core network provides EE with “all the capacity and performance head-room that it needs in the medium term”. He says EE expects 97 percent of its customer base will be using 4G devices by 2018.
It makes me wonder whether this will be through choice or desperation.