When I heard about the 4G / LTE capabilities of the iPhone 5 and the jump in download speeds this would provide I got all excited. Then I heard about the new Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile) / France Telecom (Orange) venture: Everything Everywhere, or EE as it has now trendily re-branded itself, and i thought 'Wow! it's great that LTE is here already!'
Having looked into the upgrade options, it seems as if I may have got excited prematurely. So I thought it might be helpful to provide a few perspectives on what's happening and what you need to think about.
First of all, EE is launching a brand new 4G network, but it isn't clear exactly when this will go live. You can sign-up to either T-Mobile or Orange and then transfer your account across to EE when the service becomes available. However, it is worth noting that neither T-Mobile nor orange offers visual voicemail. So in the short-term, if you're an 02 customer, you'll be losing a worthwhile feature without gaining much.
Second, 4G coverage is going to be patchy for at least another 12 months. The UK's telecoms regulator, OFCOM, has been inexcusably slow in auctioning 4G bandwidth. Worse still, they've given EE what appears to be monopoly status until the auction takes place. While all the mobile operators are trying to get the LTE auction speeded-up, it appears as if the likes of Vodafone, 02 and other operators won't get up to speed until this time next year - late 2013. (By which time the iPhone 6 will be out).
So, if you have an iPhone 4S, you may not find that the IPhone 5 gives you a lot more versus what you already have, because it will still rely predominantly on the the same 3G services. I also expect EE's 4G tariffs to be noticeably more expensive than 3G ones until proper competition arrives. Therefore increased cost plus limited coverage means you could end-up paying quite a lot more for not very much.
So my advice is, if you're an 02 or Vodafone customer, sit tight for the time being. By all means upgrade to an iPhone 5 - you'll be able to use it to access 4G whenever it becomes available. But you may not necessarily be able to access 02's or Vodafone's 4G services, because the next hiccough if that they may need to use a different bandwidth. In other words, you may not want to get locked into a contract longer than 12-months - because that's what I estimate will be the amount of time it will take until we get widespread 4G coverage in the UK and you'll want the freedom to move, when it comes.
It is possible that EE will roll out 4G with visual voicemail quickly. That being the case, then you will have the best of all worlds...
...the thing is i just don't think Orange or T-Mobile are as good as O2 and Vodafone. You will only get 4G coverage in a limited number of cities, so more often than not you'll have to rely upon T-Mobile's and Orange's less great 3G coverage.
It's a tough call.