Now that LTE has been approved for Everything Everywhere and Three, there are plenty of questions to be asked and answered regarding 4G mobile internet in the UK. We’ll make a start below and then add to this article as things develop further.
- What does LTE/4G mean?
- When is LTE/4G coming to my phone or tablet?
- Which current handsets are compatible with LTE/4G in the UK?
- Will the new iPhone be LTE/4G enabled in the UK?
- Can I still get LTE/4G if I am not with Everything Everywhere or Three?
- What are the long term ramifications of LTE in the UK?
Firstly, what does LTE/4G mean?
You may see the terms 4G and LTE used interchangeably when talking about mobile internet coverage in the UK. 4G is the broader term that is used to refer to mobile internet coverage. LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the type of 4G network that is used. The other type of 4G network that is currently used is called Mobile WiMAX, although this is not used commercially in the UK and is mainly used in South Korea.
While LTE and Mobile WiMAX do not meet the specifications required to be regarded as 4G, they have been referred to as 4G networks due to the significant step-up in speed that they provide compared to 3G. LTE Advanced and WiMAX 2 will be the first true 4G networks, but will not be available for some time yet.
So, for the time being, if you hear anyone referring to 4G or LTE in conjunction with UK mobile phone networks, they are essentially talking about the same thing.
When is LTE/4G coming to my smartphone or tablet?
4G/LTE has now been approved for Everything Everywhere in the UK and could be rolling out before the year’s end – Everything Everywhere has been given the green light to start proceedings from the 11 September. However, it is unlikely that it will be available in smartphones and tablets until next year, unless the iPhone 5 includes LTE compatibility on the 1800MHz frequency. Everything Everywhere has agreed to sell some if its 1800MHz spectrum to Three, so initially there will be two networks providing LTE coverage. Three has also agreed a deal with Samsung, which will see the South-Korean company deploy LTE base stations on its behalf.
Which current handsets are compatible with LTE/4G in the UK?
In terms of current models that offer LTE on the 1800MHz frequency, there are only a few and these have not been officially released in the UK, but in overseas markets:
- Samsung Galaxy S II LTE I9210
- LG Optimus True HD LTE P936 (aka LG Maximo True HD LTE)
- Samsung Galaxy III GT-I9303T
- HTC One XL
Whether or not some of these would become available in the UK once the LTE network is active is a possibility that has not yet been discussed. However, Samsung’s deal with Three could pave the way for its existing 1800MHZ LTE handsets to be released.
Will the iPhone 5 be LTE/4G enabled in the UK?
As it stands, there are very few smartphones that have LTE compatibility on the 1800MHz frequency as it is an extra expense for manufacturers to include it. There are not many countries that operate LTE on the 1800MHz frequency (the US, for example, mainly uses 2100MHz and 700MHz) so there has been little need for compatibility to be included. However, if the iPhone 5 does include LTE compatibility on the 1800MHz frequency, that will be a huge selling point for it in the UK for both Apple and Everything Everywhere (and possibly Three) as it will essentially be the latest phone and have much faster mobile internet than other devices. All this is of course up in the air until Apple makes the announcement on its latest device.
Can I still get LTE/4G if I am not with Everything Everywhere or Three
Yes, via a USB dongle if you want it as soon as it is available, or a bit later on a smartphone/tablet once it is also available on Vodafone and O2. Coverage via a USB dongle will mean carrying an extra gadget and taking out an additional data contract, but it could be tethered easily with a smartphone or tablet to provide 4G coverage.
Why is 1800MHz so important?
Earlier this week, Ofcom approved the use of the 1800MHz spectrum in the UK for Everything Everywhere’s 4G/LTE mobile network, some of which it has now agreed to sell to Three.
Capacity on the 1800MHz spectrum (which is currently used for voice calls) was freed up when T-Mobile and Orange merged to form Everything Everywhere. Ofcom’s ruling therefore grants the firm its wish to repurpose the 1800MHz spectrum for 4G data coverage. This decision has not gone down well with Vodafone and O2 as they have a very small share of the 1800MHz spectrum and, at the moment, do not have access to repurpose any of the other spectrums for 4G coverage. They must therefore wait for an auction for a new spectrum licensed for 4G, which has been delayed until early next year. Three, as mentioned earlier, has struck a deal with Everything Everywhere and Samsung, so is also in a strong position. However, as mentioned earlier, there are not many countries that use the 1800MHz frequency, so Everything Everywhere will be hoping for strong support from manufacturers. Given Samsung’s deal with Three, it’s safe to say it will be supporting the 1800MHz frequency.
The auction that is taking place later this year will be for the 800MHz and 2600MHz spectrums, which are more commonly used worldwide. This could therefore be of benefit to the UK networks that end up using these frequencies as their compatibility is more likely to included in a greater range of handsets. So while Everything Everywhere and Three do have a head start, they are reliant upon manufacturers including compatibility for the 1800MHz frequency, which is not the case so much at the moment.
The 4G/LTE set up in the UK may mean more variants of each handset, but should mean simpler contracts in the long run
We’re some way off this yet, but in the long run 4G/LTE coverage should lead to simpler mobile phone contracts as tariffs become data only. We’ve already started to see the usage of voice and text communication decline as people turn to data driven apps, such as Skype and Whatsapp, to communicate. As it stands, mobile internet coverage is not reliable enough to facilitate VoIP (Skype) calling over 3G, but that will change once broad 4G coverage is available in the UK. Therefore, when it comes to taking out a new mobile phone contract, it will be a question of simply choosing how much data you need included, rather than how many minutes, texts and data, as is currently the case.
However, the way the spectrum is split up will mean that there will be more variants of each handset in order to have LTE compatibility. As it stands, if you have a handset that is SIM-unlocked (as most are these days), you can put a SIM-card in it from any network provider and get GSM and 3G coverage anywhere in the UK, albeit that some areas are better than others. This won’t be the case with LTE coverage – you’ll need a handset specific to your service provider to use its LTE. GSM and 3G frequencies will still be compatible for all handsets, it’s just the LTE/4G that won’t work if you have the incorrect SIM-card.