OREANDA-NEWS. August 28, 2013. Each summer, [digi] has featured a mobile coverage and data speed test, but this summer we decided to skip that, as currently only EMT has a widespread 4G network, and we tested their network separately.

4G is nothing new in Estonia,  but this summer we saw a big change– the 4G network now also uses the 800MHz frequency band that used to be used for analogue TV.  800MHz provides better  and cheaper coverage compared to the 2600MHz and 1800 MHz ranges, which have been previously used for 4G services. 800MHz is made it possible to take 4G outside cities.

4G is indeed mostly available
The first 4G 800MHz license was given to EMT. As a winner of the license contest, EMT was obliged to install 199 base stations all over Estonia and cover at least 95 percent of the country's territory with 4G services, as well as providing users with download speeds of at least 5Mbps. In mid-June, the company reported that it had covered almost the whole country with its 4G network.

Auction for the remaining licenses will be held in the near future. It is likely that both Elisa and Tele2 will get their 4G licenses as well, but as they currently don't have a countrywide 4G network, there is no point in performing a comparative test this year.

Nevertheless, we decided to drive around Estonia and test how good and fast this new 4G coverage really is. Of course, [digi] does not have the tools to perform a professional test like the one Elisa did right after EMT opened its network, claiming afterwards that EMT had lied about covering 95 percent  of the country as required by the license, and that the actual coverage was far less. And obviously we were not able to test the network like it was done by the Technical Surveillance Authority when they checked Elisa's claim, finding that the network coverage is indeed at least 95 percent. Whatever the percent, the fact is that 4G is available in most of the country, at least outside the buildings.

15Mbps down is quite common

Our subjective and random measurements showed, however, that the mobile internet coverage has not undergone a miraculous transformation. The areas that didn't have 3G coverage before, didn't show 4G now as well. There are plenty of beaches without any G's, and forests and buildings with tin-roofs still severely cripple the mobile signal.

The speeds are good though – a typical test done on the Speedtest.net with a Sony Xperia Z smartphone showed about 8 Mbps down in rural areas, but we got much faster speeds as well: 12-15Mpbs up wasn't rare. Whereas last years' 3.5G tests showed 7-8 Mbps only in perfect conditions, and usually the speeds were only 2-3 Mbps, the progress is evident.

Interestingly, 4G connection does not seem to affect the battery life, but rather, on the contrary, it seems that my phone's battery lasts longer in 4G network compared to 3.5G.

The 4G network is currently like flying business class – expensive, but very comfortable and there's plenty of space.

When things happen now

Some might ask, why would we need such fast speeds on phone anyway. Yes, it's great to have a fast connection on computer, but what is it good for on phone? The question comes up each time a new mobile network generation is rolled out, and the answer is always the same – internet mobile traffic grows rapidly, and soon you won't understand how you were able to deal with a slower connection.

There is a certain elegance in Facebook, Instagram, websites and images opening instantly. With 4G, everything is faster and smoother compared to 3.5G. Also, as everyone has a 3.5G phone nowadays, the network load is quite high. The 4G network is currently like flying business class – expensive, but very comfortable and there's plenty of space. Perhaps in a few years the 4G network will be full of users as well, but fortunately 5G is already getting talked about.

The conclusion – 4G is indeed available, it does cover most of Estonian territory, it works excellent, and the faster speed is noticeable even with modest usage. Just like every other new technology, 4G is still a bit expensive, but hopefully the prices will come down when Elisa and Tele2 launch their 4G services country wide during this year or in the beginning of the next.