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EE 4G roaming coming next year

David Ludlow
20 Sep 2013
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Trials going on now with 4G roaming set to make an appearance next year

Although EE has had its super-fast 4G network for almost a year now, the one thing that's still missing from its line-up is 4G roaming. That is, you can go abroad and use data roaming, but you'll be limited to 3G speeds, rather than the 4G speeds you're used to at home.

That looks set to change next year, when EE plans to roll out its first 4G roaming deals. There's no confirmed date for this, as the company is currently investing how it's going to do it.

"We don't have a roaming set up, we're looking to do that quite soon," said Paul Ceely, head of network strategy at EE. "We're testing things, but I can't tell you which operators yet."

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It's actually not technical issues holding back 4G roaming, as you'd imagine, but more one of complexity. One of the great things about LTE is that it can run on pretty much any frequency; however, it means that different parts of the world have 4G networks running on different frequencies. For example, the US uses completely different frequencies to us.

To offer 4G roaming in another country, EE has to make sure that its handsets will work at the required frequencies. For example, an iPhone 5 bought in the UK won't work on 4G networks in the US.

Slightly confusing the matter is the way that AT&T in the US reports itself. Recently in San Francisco we spotted that our iPhone was listing itself as being on AT&T's 4G network. However, that's not the case and an EE spokesperson, explained that AT&T merely calls its HSPA+ network '4G' for roamers. This, in our opinion, fudges the meaning of 4G, but this definition has meant that AT&T managed to get Apple to display a '4G' icon on the iPhone when people connect to its network.

AT&T Roaming

4G, or is it?

In the UK we'd expect 4G to use Long Term Evolution (LTE) to provide the true throughputs you'd expect, whereas HSPA+ is really just a 3G networking technology. In fact, that's exactly what iOS 6 devices show when you connected to EE. This in itself has led to a few problems with people not understanding that LTE is 4G, so iOS 7 reclassifies the network and iPhones on the network now display 4G, although with this network you can believe it.

As for 4G roaming, we're going to have to wait a bit while EE puts everything in place. At the moment, EE is looking at countries it "has a lot of roaming to and from, and align that where we have networks and spectrum". For more, read our future of 4G article.

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