Summary: 4G LTE has arrived in the UK – but unless prices fall, the service will never become a replacement for fixed-line broadband or a stop-gap measure to help solve the rural broadband crisis.
On average, Brits use 23GB of data a month on their broadband at home, going by Ofcom’s figures for this year. Now combine this nugget with the idea that 4G can stand in for fixed-line broadband in rural areas, and an interesting, if prohibitively expensive, picture starts to emerge.
Many remote parts of the UK can only get sub-1Mbps download speeds on fixed-line connections. Given this, 4G has often been talked about as a potential lifeline and substitute in those areas.
What would this look like in reality? Assuming you used the UK average of data, what would it cost you to replace home broadband with 4G service?
EE is the only retail 4G network in the UK right now, and it delivers decent download speeds (I’ve personally seen a range between 6Mbps and about 45Mbps). If you went for a SIM-only (and lower monthly cost) package with EE, rather than a handset-inclusive deal, it would cost you £131 per month.
To break that down: you’d be on the highest 5GB per month plan, which costs £36. You’d also need four 4GB top-ups at £20 each, and a single 2GB top-up at £15, to take you to 23GB. That adds up to £131, or £1,572 for the year.
If you went for a handset-inclusive deal, your best bet is EE’s 8GB plan for £56 a month, with four 4GB top-ups. That makes a total of £136, or £1,632 over a year.
By comparison, BT’s fixed-line Infinity 2 broadband, which promises up to 76Mbps downloads, costs around £26 per month. Even with phone-line rental (a pre-requisite) at about £14, the service for the whole year would be £480.
To be fair, 4G pricing could come down once rivals emerge to EE — something that should start happening next year. For now, though, the sheer cost makes replacing fixed-line broadband with 4G nothing but a pipe dream.