Consumers not happy with EE exclusivity in the UK, problems with availability and plans

It hasn't been the best of starts for the new UK carrier since it launched the first 4G network in the country. EE holds exclusivity on the Lumia 920, with available handsets at Phones4u locked to the network, forcing consumers with different providers to look online at unlocked prices - which went anywhere up to £550. So why has there been so much outrage at EE and the Lumia 920 launch?

It firstly boils down to Ofcom allowing EE to launch its 4G network ahead of the competition. A single provider of a service can set pricing accordingly due to little competition. O2, Three and Vodafone each complained at the decisions made by the regulator (though carriers were also at fault for the delay in 4G rollout - according to reports), which were backed up by consumers who wait for 4G coverage to be introduced. That's problem numero uno - cost of services offered by said company.

We're not looking at the pricing alone though, but also what's included. EE currently has an allowance of just 500MB on its cheapest plan. Now remember, this is on a 4G network. We're sure you'll be able to work out the math on just how quickly that limit could be reached. It's slightly ironic that the carrier's advertisement highlights the ability to stream video quicker than a 3G provider, but at least you'd be able to watch more than 500MBs worth in a month, right?

EE 500MB

If you'd like to take advantage of the 4G speeds, you'll be looking at a minimum of £36 a month (for 24-months). For unlimited call minutes and SMS that's quite a reasonable price. But you're being limited by that ludicrous 500MB limit. To compare against a competitor plan with similar allowances, Three offers its One Plan (£25 a month) which includes 2,000 call minutes (with 5,000 to Three numbers), 5,000 SMS, unlimited data, and it's on a rolling 1-month plan.

It hasn't been a smooth ride for the new network (but then is the service 100% perfect on any network?):

Problem number two that's rubbing consumers up the wrong way is the decision made by Nokia to make the Lumia 920 exclusive to EE. The manufacturer has decided to go with EE until at least the upcoming festive holiday period, so if you're hoping to pick up a Lumia 920 from Phones4u (or another retailer) for use on a different provider, you're stuck until 2013 - at the very least. 

The Lumia 920 shortages hasn't helped matters. You've probably (or should have been) following our coverage of dwindling stock on a global scale. Telstra in Australia went out within hours, as did Clove, AT&T and Rogers stocks were almost non-existent, and Expansys UK sold at least 50 handsets at the unlocked price of £550. It's been an odd launch to say the least.

EE do, however, have some awesome advertising...

... which is then hit by more feedback from consumers:

"Once someone on EE4G has watched this video, they'll have used up 10% of their 500mb allowance which they are paying £36pm for. So if they watch this 1 min 30 video 10 times, it'll take them 13 minutes to use up their 500mb allowance. If they want more data they'll have to pay £76pm for 12GB data. Now it'll take them 5 hours to use up their 4G allowance. Or even less if they download a file."

Now, back to EE. The data limits will not affect you if you're a light user who keeps up-to-date with friends and downloads an app here and there - but if that's the case than 4G really isn't for you, not until other carriers launch their own 4G plans at more competitive prices and coverage improves to beyond a handful of cities. Consumers have left comments on EE's Facebook and Twitter profiles regarding its service, pricing and current limitations on available plans.

Let's never forget why we're improving the infrastructure to accomodate 4G speeds. More data, at quicker rates. This requires larger plans, not limitations with maximum pricing. EE's selling point is 4G. They'd have a more positive time if they lower pricing, increase (or remove) data caps, and further increase the rollout speed of 4G coverage across the UK. I will remain skeptical about the network and wait until Three (and other networks) roll out their own upgrades in Spring 2013.

Have you had a bad experience with EE? Have you used its 4G service? Be sure to head on over to our community forum to sound off your thoughts on the 4G UK situation, you'll also be able to join in the EE discussion.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.