No EDGE in the UK

One thing that surprises me a bit about the UK wireless market is that despite being one of the most competitive in Europe, non of the mobile network operators have Vodafone does not have deployed EDGE in their its GSM/GPRS network. Some might argue that there is no necessity for it as 3G is the playground for mobile broadband these days. Not so fast I say though.

Take bigger cities for example like London. Millions of people must be out and about with their Blackberries, most of them still on GPRS/EDGE and not on 3G. They would surely benefit from an EDGE upgrade. Also, it would significantly increase capacity of the GPRS network as data is transferred more efficiently over the air. But capacity wise it doesn't seem necessary, as I haven't heard complains about slow Blackberry e-mail delivery in London yet.

Personally, I also often lock down my N95 to GSM only as web browsing with Opera Mini is very bandwidth efficient, it increases battery lifetime significantly and minimizes times the mobile looses coverage, e.g. when entering buildings and while I'm traveling by train. I also noticed no slowdowns in GPRS in London, which means that the current Vodafone GSM network capacity seems to cope well with 2G data traffic.

The Scottish highlands are the other extreme. Except in a few cities, there's no 3G coverage, and GSM base stations are spaced wide apart. That makes it a difficult terrain for broadband Internet. Again, Opera Mini performed very well on the GPRS only network but I had really wished for some EDGE so web browsing would have been possible as well.

But for the moment, it seems its not to be had. I wonder if integrated GSM/UTMS/LTE base station with a common backhaul link might change this in the future?

7 thoughts on “No EDGE in the UK”

  1. I can confirm that O2 in the UK do have EDGE. Perhaps not everywhere but in some locations (incl. Reading) it is enabled. As Dan Jones mentions above, they rolled it out when they secured the original iPhone contract.

  2. Hi Ben, Mark and Dan,

    Hm, strange, when I tested it in London and later in Scotland, none of the cells of the different operators had EDGE enabled. But except for Vodafone, which I used throughout the trip, I only tested in two locations. So I stand corrected, and will do some additional testing next time I’m in the UK.

    Thanks for the feedback!


  3. Like Martin I often lock my phone to GSM. a. it gives better battery life; b. it is sufficient for the Blackberry using Opera, Google Maps; c. it has better coverage. If set to 3G I don’t see a noticable speed increase even though HSPA enabled. Also it’s very annoying that some 3G networks I roam onto let me connect, but don’t give me data access. Thus with my Blackberry I am ‘connected’, but strangly unconnected! In the UK O2’s EDGE coverage is quite patchy (despite the iPhone deal), but welcome where available. Strange given that I think it was always meant to be just a base station software upgrade(?) Makes me think that O2 uses older BS equipment. For the other operators they probably want to encourage customers to use their under-utilised 3G spectrum that they paid so much for.

  4. Hi Dominic,

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, on newer base stations Edge is a software feature. On older ones some boards have to be replaced. But the big thing with Edge introduction is the additional backhaul capacity required. Base stations are often daisy chained so Edge requires a redesign of the transport.


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