Light Reading

EE Users Snub WiFi for LTE

Sarah Thomas
8/19/2013
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EE 's silly name is turning out to be quite descriptive. The UK's pioneer LTE operator says its customers are starting to spurn WiFi in favor of its zippy 4G network.

In fact, 43 percent of EE subscribers are using fewer or no public WiFi hotspots since they've gotten 4G, versus 37 percent in April, the operator said Monday in its 4GEE Mobile Living Index, and 23 percent are using their home broadband less. The index contains the first stats released on the network since its launch 10 months ago. EE's LTE network now reaches 60 percent of the UK.

Video downloading, uploading, and streaming makes up 26 percent of LTE network traffic, according to the index. "In fact YouTube alone accounts for 14% of 4G traffic." EE also learned that one-fourth of Britons check social apps more than 10 times a day over LTE, but uploading traffic has overtaken downloads on the network at big events. That's not surprising, given our penchant for sharing via sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but it does speak to the need for uploads that are as fast as downloads, especially since EE foresees data volumes over social networks increasing tenfold by 2015.

The dominance of LTE use for EE subscribers could be partly explained by the fact that morning and evening commutes, where WiFi isn't readily available, are popular times for device use. But I think it also speaks to the quality of the network and the ease of using it. A quarter of EE customers use the mobile Internet three hours a day, and they are doing it via the path of least resistance -- what the phone defaults to and what works well, or at least well enough.

This is great news for EE (which doesn't have a WiFi offload strategy), given its ample spectrum holdings, but other operators banking on carrier WiFi initiatives to relieve congestion and maintain the LTE experience should take note of this.

EE's findings reinforce the importance of making WiFi offload seamless, authentication automatic, and handoff undetectable. More consumers would default to WiFi if the process were baked into the phone, and they'd be happy to do so given the data caps on tiered plans. But when the LTE network is this good, they aren't going to seek it out.

It's certainly a good thing that LTE is proving itself to be as reliable and fast as home broadband, but it could be a bad thing if it comes at the expense of carrier WiFi initiatives.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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dawright
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dawright,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/20/2013 | 11:17:21 AM
Re: LTE tablets
np. happy to share / provide more thoughts ... email on your system i believe
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/20/2013 | 11:00:32 AM
Re: LTE tablets
Nice. That seems like a smart strategy (provided it's done carefully with net neutrality in mind). MetroPCS has a similar video package in the US. It markets it as a video plan rather than talking about megabytes. It's something that makes sense to consumers, promote the brand, and encourages data usage but with an optimized service.

Thanks for sharing the data breakdown too. That does seem reasonable, especially if you're able to not count most video usage.
dawright
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dawright,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/20/2013 | 10:09:05 AM
Re: LTE tablets
Yup, its their own EE film store. Looks relatively well sourced though.

I suspect it will make a big diffrence, as will other offers out there such as VOD offering free access to Sky Sports premiership for the first 3 months on RED 4G. However I think that counts as data usage unlike the EE promo.

FYI some data consumption stats; on a basic rate, 1Gb data streams around 5.6hrs video, at HD its just 35mins. So assuming the basic VOD 2GB package, and say 25%-50% alternative usage, you would have 1-1.5GB available = around 4 basic definition games at c. 90mins, or one per week. Reasonable.
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/20/2013 | 9:56:08 AM
Re: LTE tablets
I didn't know that about the data offer, dawright, but that's really interesting, and I'm sure a big part of why LTE is taking off. Downloading can eat up a lot of bandwidth. Is EE just allowing it for a certain site (like its own) or all movie downloads?
hbajwa
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hbajwa,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/20/2013 | 9:00:57 AM
Cautionary Tale for Wi-Fi Offload?
What EE is saying seems quite reasonable. User experience matters a great deal to mobile users and today's public Wi-Fi networks are not properly matched to LTE, especially in terms of backhaul capacity and average user bandwidth fairness.

I wonder if this will be a wake-up call to the industry. Will they start building better public Wi-Fi networks based on higher bandwidth backhaul and newer 802.11ac APs? It seems some business models will need to change to remain competitive if that's the case.
dawright
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dawright,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/20/2013 | 4:47:25 AM
Re: LTE tablets
Dont forget that EE has offered free film downloads until Xmas that do NOT affect your data usage ... thats likely to move major volume onto the network via rich streaming. I suspect that we might see the stats change quite a lot as this promo roles off.
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/19/2013 | 3:58:51 PM
Re: LTE tablets
The wireless phenomenon of charging per usage instead of flat fee generally leads toward looking for savings which Wi-Fi provides.

While EE generally dosent have a Wi-Fi offload at all, the value of any offload needs to be passed on to the customer or there is no incentive for them to switch. That said the need for seamless network switching is imperative, although luckily the industry is already making real progress on that front. 
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/19/2013 | 3:51:51 PM
Re: LTE tablets
I think anyone would start to care IF they got overages, but if not, there's no reason to exert the effort to switch to WiFi. Plus, I think we all have experience with really poor public WiFi networks. EE doesn't have an offload strategy, so we're not talking opting to use their WiFi. It would be public hotspots, which are often unreliable, overloaded, broken, or locked.
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/19/2013 | 3:21:33 PM
Re: LTE tablets
If I had to guess I would say that the high-end customers that arent price sensitive will always opt for the easier and ubiquitous network, but as you go to the more price sensitive customers they begin to think of their usage patterns and as tablets are primarily used in fixed locations they are fine with Wi-Fi only or at the very least limiting their LTE usage.
Liz Greenberg
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Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/19/2013 | 2:46:49 PM
Re: LTE tablets
Those prices are pretty reasonable for the upper tiers...especially compared to AT&T (http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/data-plans.html#tab2) which charges for the data, the device, your first born child, the air above your head, etc. It could be a reasonable rate for those who don't pay for a TV subscription. Let's see what EE says.
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