Britain’s first 4G network switches on

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iol scitech march 9 4G AP The first 4G network in the UK launched last month without problem for TV viewers but Freeview users are likely to be affected next year as the mobile networks move to a spectrum close to that currently used by digital terrestrial television.

London - A giant map of Britain's new 4G mobile phone network will be projected on to Battersea Power Station in London on Thursday as the pop star Nicole Scherzinger performs at a “star-studded night of entertainment” hosted by Everything Everywhere (EE) - the company spearheading the UK's fourth-generation revolution.

By making the service available now, EE - which owns Orange and T-Mobile - is trying to steal a march on rivals which will not launch 4G networks until next year. Its service is available on the Apple iPhone 5 and some HTC, Samsung, Nokia and Huawei devices.

For early-adopters who ignored warnings that EE has launched 4G before its broadband network is sufficiently developed (it is available in only 11 cities so far), the company is trying to make their experiences as pain-free as possible.

The service, which offers internet downloads of music and video up to five times faster than 3G networks, is being sold alongside a fibre-optic broadband package and promises to transform the use of video on mobile handsets. Downloading a feature-length movie could take as little as three minutes on a 4G phone.

The EE website offers a “check your coverage” facility, whereby customers can input their postcode into a search engine to access a map on which various shades of turquoise denote the strength of the local 4G signal.

In Greater London, the map has a reassuring oceanographic hue of emeralds and aquamarines, and only flecks of white to show absence of coverage. But in Southampton, EE can offer only a limited signal that does not reach outlying areas such as Fawley and Romsey, less than 10 miles away. When 4G fails, users are directed to a 3G network.

EE insists its 4G coverage will expand quickly in coming months as more transmitters are switched to the new network. The group has spent £1.5bn bringing 4G to London, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Sheffield, Southampton and Glasgow. Belfast, Derby, Newcastle, Hull and Nottingham will follow by the end of the year.

EE is charging 4G customers according to how much data they consume, with packages starting at £36 (about R430) a month for 500 megabytes (MB), rising to £56 for eight gigabytes (GB). But there has been criticism of its price plans. The cheapest tariff's 500MB of downloads a month is equivalent to two one-hour programmes on the BBC iPlayer. Customers who want more than their 500MB allowance must pay extra, with a user looking to download eight one-hour shows a month facing estimated charges of up to £180 a year.

Ofcom, the media regulator, has let EE re-use its existing radio spectrum for a 4G network, frustrating rivals who must compete in an auction for new air space next year. Further controversy has centred on the estimated £4bn the Treasury will rake in from that auction. The BBC science expert Prof Brian Cox is backing the Campaign for Science and Engineering, which wants the money invested in research. “From training new science and maths teachers, to creating new funds to help innovative businesses, £4bn could revolutionise the UK,” it said.

- The Independent

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