LTE: Quality matters

It's very tempting to go for that low-cost mobile offer as we seek to reduce the wallet share of our communications services, but often the compromise on quality is too great to accept.

In France, for example, Free Mobile offers a fantastically attractive offer of 20 GB of 4G data for €15.99 a month if you use Free's other home broadband services, but as France's national frequencies agency ANFR revealed in December, Free Mobile currently only has 1,924 LTE masts in service across the country.

That compares to a total of 15,020 LTE mobile masts now in service across France, with particularly strong coverage from Bouygues Telecom and Orange France.

The issue of coverage versus signal quality was addressed this week by the CEO of Vodafone UK, Jeroen Hoencamp. Perhaps he was attempting to allay any potential concerns that Vodafone is still well behind EE in terms of LTE network coverage, but he made some valid points over the value of consistency when 4G services are actually available.

Now at 50 per cent population coverage, Vodafone UK has some way to go to reach the 80 per cent coverage recently announced by rival operator EE. Nonetheless, Hoencamp came out with all guns blazing, saying on a company blog that "the way in which we're switching 4G on in each city, town and district" sets the company apart from rivals.

Hoencamp stressed that the strength and consistency of the signal is more important than pure coverage claims, and there he certainly has a point. If you see a 4G symbol on your smartphone yet have trouble actually downloading anything, then the 4G network in question is failing you badly.

"We only turn 4G on when we have built or updated enough sites," Hoencamp added.

Vodafone UK may be trying to pre-empt criticisms of its 4G rollout programme, but it was nice to see the CEO of a mobile operator talk some sense about how far coverage and advertised speeds will actually get you.

Indeed, speed seems to be the name of the game for many operators at the moment, but its what you can do with a network that will get users on board.

As Hoencamp points out, many customers don't know what 4G is.

"Many customers don't care what 4G is," he added. "All customers want is consistency, so that wherever they go they have strong signal, so that they can do what they want wherever they are."--Anne