BT to return to mobile phone market with low cost SIM only 4G plans

It’s been ten years since BT sold off its shares in Cellnet (now O2) and pulled out of the mobile phone market, but today the communications giant has confirmed that it will be returning with a range of SIM only 4G plans for UK customers. BT 4G sim

The company has already announced its intentions to acquire EE, for which it’s currently awaiting regulatory approval, but in the meantime it has been able to tap into EE’s network thanks to an agreement drawn up in 2013.

Initially BT is to release three SIM only 4G plans from as little as £5 per month for existing BT customers. The entry tariff, which will cost £10 per month for non-BT customers, will include 500MB of 4G data, 200 minutes of calls and unlimited texts.

£17 per month (£12 per month for existing BT customers) will get you 2GB of 4G data, 500 minutes of calls and unlimited texts, while £25 per month (£20 for existing BT customers) will get you a massive 20GB of 4G data plus unlimited calls and texts.

In addition, all of the plans include free access to BT Sport and the company’s five million Wi-Fi hotspots.

The £5 per month plan easily undercuts the lowest plans by its competitors, which should help to bring prices down across the board, making 4G more accessible to all.

You can see all BT’s 4G SIM Only plans here.

Slow Start for Fast 4GEE – Stores Closed and No 4G Demo!

Today is the BIG DAY!  4G went live in the UK on EE, the lovechild of Orange and T-Mobile so I popped to my local High Street in London to get a demo to see just how fast it really is and came back home none the wiser…

EE promises that 4G is going to be five times faster than 3G, subject I’m sure to plenty of small print about 4G coverage variations, the device you’re using and so on.  I for one expect to see evidence of this before switching networks and shelling out on a 4G phone or 4G mobile wifi contract. 

First of all I rocked up to the local Orange store, now hastily and cheaply rebranded in grey as an EE store with Orange listed as a sub-brand, to find it closed due to ‘refurbishment’.  I later found out that it was closed due to it’s EE stock and sales collateral having not turned up!  

Welcome to the 4G revolution and launch of EE!!

Thankfully, in the crazy three brand world of EE, Orange and T-Mobile there was a T-Mobile store only a few doors away so I trudged along to see if they could show me the wonders of 4GEE. This store is also now an EE store, with some small T-Mobile co-branding on the fascia and thankfully it was open.  I walked in to find the staff in their fresh new EE uniform and some indication that EE has actually launched but alas… no demo products on display!! 

When I asked the staff they said they did have stock to sell of 4G mobiles and mobile broadband products but that the demo SIMs hadn’t yet arrived.  An electrician was also due to set up the demo units later in the day.  The best they could offer was a demo of a 4G phone over the 3G network. Obviously a pointless exercise.

They hoped to have demo products available during the afternoon but I’m not confident enough to bother heading back into town given the completely underwhelming performance of EE/T-Mobile/Orange so far.

The poor staff are not to blame and they were very apologetic.  They also seemed to be struggling to understand the confusing array of tariffs, handsets and offers that now cover two or three different brands. Head office has really let them down.

Contrast this to the slick product launches we see on a regular basis for Apple and this seems particularly shambolic. 4G has been promoted as a huge step change in the backbone of the mobile industry, particularly by EE – the main reason for the new brand even existing.  

You’d expect a bigger fanfare for the biggest step in mobile data speeds in nearly a decade. I’m thinking red carpets, a massage whilst you sign up and staff carrying by out of the shop with my new purchase.  Pleasing the early adopters is crucial to get speedy wider take up and brand advocacy for a new tech product. Instead I found stores closed, demo products missing and embarrassed staff having to turn away potential customers.  

I’m left pondering what EE really stands for – Everything Everywhere it certainly is not. 

What do you think of the EE4G launch? Will you be getting 4G? Let us know by adding a comment below.

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4G Launch Plan Announced by Everything Everywhere – 3G Déjà vu?

Olaf Swantee, head honcho at Everything Everywhere, today formally announced the launch of 4G mobile phone services from the company that comprises the Orange and T-Mobile brands. 

16 cities will have 4G access by the end of this year with 98% 4G coverage (population coverage rather than landmass coverage) promised by 2014.  The following 4 cities are set to roll out 4G coverage in the next few weeks:

Everything Everywhere now rebranded as EE - I kid you not

  • London
  • Birmingham
  • Cardiff
  • Bristol
Whilst these 12 cities should get 4G before the end of the year:
  • Belfast
  • Derby
  • Edinburgh
  • Glasgow 
  • Hull
  • Leeds
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • Nottingham 
  • Newcastle
  • Sheffield 
  • Southampton

4G will be launched under a new brand that replaces Everything Everywhere.  The brand agency must have spent literally minutes (and hundreds of thousands of pounds in consultancy fees) coming up with this one.  Wait for it…  ‘Everything Everyone’ will become ‘EE’. Jubilympics anyone?

The launch announcement itself made me feel a strong sensation of déjà vu.  The main benefits of 4G, according to Olaf, included watching live tv (without buffering), downloading email attachments quicker than ever and video conferencing on the move. Isn’t that exactly what the operators promised us all in fantastical ad campaigns back at the launch of 3G in the UK nearly ten years ago?

It actually took several more years and the launch of the iPhone to deliver the breakthrough moment in the adoption of data-rich applications on a mobile phone – the smartphone era. And don’t forget… the original iPhone was actually a 2G product – it didn’t even have 3G.

Don’t get carried away with hype. 4G is a good step forward and it will become the norm in the next five years but it’s an evolutionary step forwards not a revolutionary change for us normos.  

Oh, and if EE expects everyone to bin their iPhone’s and Androids in favour of a Nokia Lumia to get 4G access… they really are back in the land of 3G fantasy.  

Everything Everywhere to launch 4G (but not everywhere just yet)

Great news for speed obsessed, data hungry smartphone and tablet lovers – Everything Everywhere will launch 4G in the UK before the end of the year! 

Ofcom have granted the group which combined both of the Orange and T-Mobile brands permission to launch a 4G network on their existing mobile spectrum. User Benefits of 4G

Mobile coverage will initially be limited to major metropolitan areas, similar to when 3G initially rolled out, and only a handful of devices are likely to support 4G in the UK at that time.  It remains to be confirmed if current 4G devices, most notably the 4G supporting iPad 3, will be compatible with UK 4G – previous speculation suggests not. 

Everything Everywhere also announced that they will be launching a new third brand which will sit alongside Orange and T-Mobile.  Orange and T-Mobile will continue to exist in the UK for the foreseeable future but it will be interesting to see if the new brand become the home of their 4G products. Intriguing… 

Watch this space for more info! 

Microsoft Surface – Top Tablet or PC Pretender?

Microsoft have announced their own in-house designed tablet called the Surface in by far their biggest attempt to try to stake a claim in the fast-growing tablet market.

Can they really challenge the runaway success of the iPad or the plethora of Android tablets that make up what’s left of the tablet market?

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface

First off, let’s take a step back to understand why this is such a big deal for the future of Microsoft.  

The birth of the new tablet market has turned the home computer market on its head. Tablets are replacing many people’s need for a full laptop or desktop computer at home. The tablet format and operating system is perfect for web browsing, gaming, Facebook-ing, emailing or watching video. Who needs a big clunky computer for their sofa-surfing now?

Microsoft cannot afford to miss out on the tablet market as it’s bound to eat into their core market and reduce PC sales which in turn drive their software sales. Their rather feeble response to the iPad has seen them all but jettisoned by their usual pals the PC manufacturers, in favour of Google’s Android operating system.  Microsoft’s response – we’ll build one ourselves.

Microsoft Surface Colours


So, history lesson over, what is the Microsoft Surface? 

It’s a tablet computer with a few bells and whistles hanging off the side. From the PR, the videos and the glossy pics – first impressions are it looks pleasing to the eye, although it isn’t in the same class of iconic industrial design as Apple – but what is?

The main differentiators from a design perspective are a larger 10.6 inch display, a built-in ‘Kickstand’ for standing the tablet up on a hard surface and a cover that includes a touch sensitive keyboard with trackpad. It reminds me a lot of the critically acclaimed Asus Transformer ‘tablet with a keyboard’ combo. 

Microsoft Surface
Looks just like a laptop doesn’t it…

Most of the publicity shots include this keyboard cover and it seems as if Microsoft is deliberately trying to blur the boundaries between a laptop and a tablet, perhaps a strategic move to shift momentum back towards their heartland? They seem to want you to think that ‘with Microsoft you can have your cake and eat it – a tablet with all the benefits of a laptop.’

Hmmm. I’m not convinced this approach will unduly worry Apple or the other tablet manufacturers. Whilst I think both the keyboard cover and the integrated kickstand are nice features they’re a little gimmicky and they can easily be matched via the addition of accessories to any tablet.

By linking their tablet so heavily to laptop computers they could they risk a negative association with our working life. “Wow I can use this tablet with Excel!” is unlikely to be a thought that draws customers away from the competition.

Microsoft Surface
The Surface cuts a very slim profile

The Surface has the obligatory built-in cameras, one for Skyping and one for taking pictures/capturing video (although why you’d want to take photos with something the size of a 10.6 inch tablet is beyond me). There’s an SD Card slot, a USB slot, up to 128GB of memory on board and an HD display with some marketing-fluff naming attached to it. You can check out the full tech specs here.

As for the software, there will be two main versions of the Microsoft Surface at launch, one running Windows 8 Pro and the other running Windows RT.  The Pro version is a bit thicker in size and packs more processing power, presumably because it’s running a heavier version of the software.

Microsoft Surface
Macbook Air anyone

Microsoft have been coy about the pricing and the launch date but it will probably cost at least as much as an iPad and launch in the Autumn.

So, will it be any good? I can’t comment on the most important part – the operating system – as you can only judge that when trying it out on the device in question, but I’m not a fan of Windows in general so I will probably take a lot of convincing.

One key issue the Surface will have to tackle is that it will take a monumental effort to get app developers to engage with a new tablet operating system and create Surface/Windows versions of their apps.  The iPad without Apps would be a good-looking but pretty limited piece of technology – the choice of Apps are a huge part of what makes it an exceptional product.

Taking on Apple and Android head to head by building their own product was perhaps Microsoft’s only option to make a dramatic comeback in the tablet market, but aside from the Xbox, Microsoft doesn’t have a great track record in launching its own hardware.  Can anyone remember the Zune music playing iPod rival? I didn’t think so…  

Good luck Microsoft.

What do you think of the Microsoft Surface? Leave a comment below to let us know.