It’s been a long wait, but Britain finally got a 4G mobile phone network today as EE opened for business.
Don’t all rush to sign up though: the 4GEE service is only currently available in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and eight other cities, with others following by the end of the year.
A bigger issue is that the cheapest £36 a month contract includes just 500MB of data. So if you’re tempted to download an episode of BBC Top Gear in under a minute on your smartphone (as the Guardian’s Josh Halliday did testing 4GEE), you’ll have used up your whole monthly allowance. Sure, you can use wifi to avoid blowing your allowance, but that rather defeats the point of 4G. More generous allowances will cost up to £56 a month.
To be fair to EE, it needs to get a return on its investment. But it remains to be seen how quickly consumers upgrade to 4G. Britain’s mobile networks invested huge sums in 3G licences a decade ago, but consumers were slow to sign up. 4G may be different: we’re now shopping, watching video, route-planning and connecting via Facebook on our phones. Doing all those things faster is an attractive idea.