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EE brings gigabit mobile speeds to London

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London has some of the slowest 4G speeds in the country, according to the London Assembly, but if Qualcomm and EE have it their way, it’s about to receive a bit of a boost. At an event in Wembley Stadium, Qualcomm, EE and Sony have demonstrated – for the first time in the capital city – a live Gigabit 4G network connection.

Using a Sony Xperia XZ Premium hooked up to a laptop running Ookla’s eponymous Speed Test app, Qualcomm demonstrated the phone achieving download speeds of up to 765Mbits/sec over the live network. Yep, you read that right: 765Mbits/sec (and no, that’s not a typo). At the claimed top speed of 750MB/sec, this is 18 times faster than my home broadband connection and “more than twice as fast as the the UK’s speediest commercial fibre broadband” according to EE.

Upload speeds are not nearly as rapid but, at a potential 110Mbits/sec, are still nothing to turn your nose up at. That’s 15 times the speed of my home broadband upload speed.

Impressive stuff, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Qualcomm crowing over stonking cellular speeds. Back in January 2017, I witnessed the very first Gigabit 4G network debuted live in Sydney Australia, Australia. Since then, gigabit 4G (or LTE) technology has been implemented in 26 networks across 18 countries worldwide.

It’s the first time I’ve seen speeds like this running on a smartphone, however, and it’s all the more impressive to see it demonstrated this close to home.

Will I get gigabit 4G / LTE on my phone?

To get speeds like this, you need the right hardware and, right now, the number of handsets that can take full advantage are thin on the ground. Basically, you need a phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset and the Qualcomm X16 modem or a Samsung S8/S8 Plus with Exynos 8895; plus, the phone needs to have a 4×4 MIMO antenna array.

Only the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, the HTC U11 and the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus currently meet these requirements; the OnePlus 5, which also has a Snapdragon 835 and an X16 modem inside, only has a 2×2 MIMO antenna array and its top speed is a slower 600Mbits/sec as a result.

As a happy coincidence, I happened to have all bar the HTC U11 in my bag when I attended the event and, at the risk of busting dramatically though my data limit, I set about testing the handsets in (slightly) less controlled conditions.

The results were eye-opening. My Sony XZ Premium reached 349Mbits/sec and my Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus topped out at 369Mbits/sec. That’s slower than the earlier, official test but bear in mind I was running these tests at the same time Qualcomm was running other demonstrations, including the streaming of two 4K Amazon Prime video streams simultaneously.

The OnePlus 5 was the most ponderous of the bunch, achieving “only” 68Mbits/sec, showing the benefit of 4×4 MIMO over its 2×2 MIMO antenna array.

Where can I get Gigabit 4G / LTE and how much will it cost?

Right now, gigabit 4G is as yet limited in scope in the UK. There’s the Wembley stadium installation, one at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium and coverage at London Tech City. But the technology will soon roll out to other areas, focusing on more densely populated areas such as London, Birmingham and Manchester.

EE says it predicts the rollout will closely follow the pattern for the rollout of its cat6 coverage, which is now offered at just shy of 3,000 sites. “Wherever we have a dense population we will increase the spectral capacity to be able to meet the demand,” said Tom Bennett, director of network services and devices at EE.

It may be some time before you can experience such speeds yourself, but the good news is that when it does eventually reach your area, you may not need to pay a premium a to get it: gigabit 4G will be available to all EE customers on 4G Max plans.

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