You can’t have failed to spot the adverts, starring Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon, doing the conga to promote EE’s fastest 4G mobile network service. And reports show that the Everything Everywhere company are now the UK’s biggest mobile provider, with an estimated 26 million customers.
But a segment on BBC’s Watchdog last night suggest that although the 4G internet is indeed pretty fast, making a simple phone call has proved to be problematic.
Watchdog has been receiving a steady stream of complaints from disgruntled EE customers, since the EE 4G launch last October 2012. The complaints centre around the phone service, which customers say is actually worse than before they signed up to the 4G service.
In order to get to the bottom of the problem, Watchdog launched their own investigation, and concentrated on four key areas:
1. The fact the 4G doesn’t actually work.
Watchdog spoke to industry analyst Dean Bubley who explained that when 4G phones make phone calls they use the 3G network so it is nothing to do with the 4G system.
2. The handsets are at fault.
Again, Dean Bubley advised that: ‘the phones have had to be redesigned from the ground up to support 4G. All of the chips in them, the radio components, some of the software, all of them are different.’ So it seems that the handsets are not the problem.
3. The switch down from 4G to 3G when making calls is the problem.
Apparently the switch down from 4G to 3G when making phone calls was always meant to be a temporary solution until a better method was developed, and as Bubley says: ‘There’s lots of independent systems within the network, all of which have to speak to each other and there’s plenty of room for the occasional glitch or misconnection.’ So it could be that the switching down from different networks could be partly to blame.
4. The 3G network is at fault.
There are some people who think that this is more likely to be the explanation, that when people are dropping out of 4G to 3G to make calls, it puts the 3G network under more strain.
And in order to make room for the super-fast internet speeds of 4G, EE had to reallocate bandwidths, therefore narrowing their previous networks. And EE have also had to close down certain phone masts that they do not require anymore, as they merged Orange and T Mobile merged to create EE.
Dean Bubley thinks that this could be part of the problem: ‘As part of that process of combining the two old networks and upgrading to 4G at the same time, yes there’s a lot of alteration that’s gone on. If your phone switches from the 4G network back to the 3G network, and you’ve got coverage for 4G but not for 3G – then you’ve got a problem.’
Watchdog managed to get a statement from EE:
“We apologise sincerely to any customers who have experienced problems as we upgrade our network.
As is the case with any mobile network anywhere in the world, there are numerous factors that can cause a customer to experience a signal problem. Some are simple and quick to fix such as a minor handset fault while others can be complex and take time to resolve.
It’s worth noting that in recent independent tests EE performed better than any other UK network in terms of call performance*.
We can reassure our customers that we investigate each and every issue reported to us, including those brought to us by Watchdog this week, and do all we can to resolve every problem. It is entirely correct that when a 4G user makes a Voice call the call is currently passed through the 3G network – most importantly, there is no negative experience for customers caused by this.
This is industry standard across the world and other UK operators are using the same technology.”
So, although the internet speeds are certainly super-fast, it seems that if you want your phone to make a basic phone call, you might be waiting a little while until EE sort out the problem.