The company behind Orange and T-Mobile, Everything Everywhere, has undergone a huge transformation, launching a new brand called EE. In terms of numbers of customers, they could already boast of being the largest network in the UK and now they can also lay claim to being the only true 4G network for at least the next year. Their new flagship stores opened on October 30th, the same day on which their 4G network went live and ended its test phase. This new high-speed network will cover 16 major cities in the UK by Christmas with the goal of being able to offer 4G to 70% of the population by this time next year. While this is all huge news to the UK phone-landscape, it has undoubtedly caused confusion amongst existing customers and has people wondering just what it is exactly that they’re being offered.
If you’re already signed up to a plan with either orange or T-Mobile, you’ll still need to sign a new contract and basically join a new service if you wish to take advantage of EE’s 4G network. That being said, if you’re happy with your current plan, that won’t disappear and everything that you enjoy about your existing contract will stay the same, including your number, mobile service and plan details (and, perhaps more importantly for some, your Orange Wednesdays benefits). If you do choose to upgrade to 4G, discounts are available with the possibility of being able to shift over with no penalty.
EE has stated that ‘eligible’ Orange and T-Mobile customers will be provided with a ‘straightforward’ way changing over to their newly launched 4G service. Bear in mind though that in order to make use of the 4G coverage, you will need a 4G compatible phone, a 4G SIM card and a 4G plan directly from EE. It’s also not an entirely inexpensive move, with contracts only available for 24-months at a time, starting from £36 per month for a mere 500MB of data and going up to a maximum limit of 8GB for £56, with no unlimited plans on offer. That being said, the new tariffs are flexible, and if you find yourself nearing your data limit regularly, you can shift up a tariff. Also, in an attempt to eliminate any chance of buyer’s remorse, you’re still afforded the option to move back down to your original plan should things not work out. Keep in mind though that you won’t be able to go lower than the tariff which you originally signed though.
Currently, the only phones to offer 4G and LTE services are, rather unsurprisingly, the higher end models. As such, expect an upfront cost for your plan as well in order to purchase the handset as only the Ascend P1 is offered free of charge, but only from tariffs price at £41 a month or higher. EE have also confirmed that there won’t be any pay as you go plans available at Launch but haven’t ruled out the possibility in the future, likely when the other networks finalise the 4G spectrums they’ll be using and are able to compete with EE directly.
It’s also worth noting that no handset bought before mid-September will work on the 4G network with the sole exception of the UK version of the iPhone 5 which just happened to be on the compatible 1800MHz spectrum. Regardless of what the specifications for any other phones might say, the modems and antennas are different enough to make them incompatible with the current 4G network from EE. As such, any phones you’d want to use on their contracts would have to be bought directly from them. Luckily, the range of phones on offer from EE is respectable, ranging from Android equipped devices such as the excellent Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, Apple’s iPhone 5 and even Nokia’s Windows 8-based 920, all high-performance, high-quality (if expensive) phones.
While EE is very much pushing the message that it wants to create a network for everyone, not just the elite, upgrading is still a pricey proposition for most people. Although, with the speeds being offered, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see data allowances slowly being pushed up for all. If that happens, we’d soon be caught in a space-war between the major operators once they pitch in with their 4G offerings and, with any luck, we may well see the unintended benefit of skyrocketing mobile data usage over the next few years. At 4G speeds, it’s going to be pretty easy to tear through those 500MB data caps after all.