At the time of writing there is one network offering 4G access in the UK – EE. In theory 4G will offer much faster data access than the current 3G networks offering speeds equivalent to, or even better than, many home broadband services.
Vodafone are due to launch their new 4G service and have been heavily promoting their service in advance. Their website gushes enthusiastically about how clever they have been.
Everyone’s agreed – 4G is going to change the way we use mobile devices. At last, mobile internet speeds that can keep pace with the way most of us live today.
But it all depends on mobile phone spectrum. Good job that at this year’s 4G spectrum auction we picked up a third of the crucial lower (800MHz) frequency, plus a useful amount of higher frequency.
That is good news, well done Vodafone.
Except there’s a slight problem. Chances are your 4G phone won’t actually be able to access the 4G network. You see, when Vodafone were bidding all their billions of pounds (luckily they’ve had a significant tax windfall recently) at the 4G spectrum auction they forgot to make sure that manufacturers would release phones that would be compatible with what they’d bought.
So if you bought an iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy SIII or Galaxy Note II you’ll find that the 4G is redundant. Actually, that’s not entirely true, you can use it when roaming abroad (so that’ll be good value…) or if you unlock your phone and sign up to the EE network. Thing is though, you’re unlikely to do that because you’ve already signed up to an 18 or 24 month contract with Vodafone. So you’re stuck. And so are Vodafone, because if you can’t access 4G through your phone and let’s face it, these are the most popular phones on the market, they can’t charge you for their superfast data plans.
They need your money.
So what happens now. Well, there’s an interesting offer on the Vodafone website here. Effectively, they’ll let you pay off your remaining contract with 75% of the cost knocked off. Which is lovely. Well done Vodafone.
Except, there’s a tiny catch. You have to take out a new contract at the same value or higher than the one you’re currently on. You have a choice of three phones, the Nokia Lumia 925, the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the Blackberry Z10. Oh and you have to pay off (albeit reduced by 75%) your current deal. If your bill is currently around £40 per month and you have 12 months left to run, which is likely if you bought the iPhone 5 at launch, then you’ll have an additional £120 to pay. For a worse phone, on a new contract.
Surprisingly Vodafone haven’t made this particularly clear in all their advertising. They are very concerned about their customers though, so they’ve started making courtesy calls. You should expect to receive one soon. They call from 08080996746. They’re making lots of calls from that number. As you can see here people are universally delighted to hear from them.
They’ll ask you some questions about how you’re enjoying their service. If you respond like I did, rather negatively – I may be an old curmudgeon but I answered honestly – that I found the 3G service in London at best, awful, they will reassure you that it will be completely fixed upon the launch of 4G (if Vodafone want to deny this they can contact me for my details so they can listen back to the call they assured me was being recorded).
You might want to check that they’re calling from Vodafone as they ask their questions, you know, for security and all that nonsense. Perhaps ask them for your account number. They won’t be able to tell you it. Though claiming to be from Vodafone and the recorded message thanking you for calling Vodafone if you ring back to see who called you, they’re actually a third party. Well I think they are, you see, they’re not that sure themselves.
Hopefully that’s cleared that up then…
The 3G service may of course improve, they even suggested this to me on Twitter, if enough people take up the 4G option, thus relieving the pressure on the completely overworked and oversubscribed 3G network.
But that’s a long way off, particularly given the dire choice of phones available to users who might be interested in upgrading. But of course, they’ll generously take back your phone and let you pay off your contract. They don’t mention how valuable your phone is to them – look around online, you’ll find plenty of websites offering £300 for it.
What to do then? Well, first of all, wait. Tell them to sod off. If you’ve got an iPhone you’re unlikely to want to swap it for a Blackberry and pay more for the privilege. There’s probably going to be a new iPhone launched in the next month. That could well be compatible with their network. Then again it might not be. Maybe they already know the answer to this. If the new iPhone doesn’t work on their 4G network it’ll have a devastating effect on their subscriber numbers. Perhaps that’s why the cold calling has gone into overdrive now.
Don’t be pressured though and don’t fall for the hype. Remember, they need you more than you need them. 2 years is a long time to be paying for a phone you didn’t actually want.