Everything Everywhere (EE) is due to launch the UK’s first 4G service on 30th October. After considerable discussion behind closed doors, Ofcom, the communications regulator, the government and the major mobile phone networks have agreed a timetable for rolling-out the new technology, with Everything Everywhere (EE) slightly jumping the queue, to claim the mantle of first UK 4G operator, much to the chagrin of O2 and Vodaphone, who weren’t at all pleased that EE were given the early go-ahead. But aside from the politics and commercial rivalries, what does 4G offer, and as many have been wondering, how will the technology change the way we communicate and the way we access both partitioned cloud networks and the public internet …?
So What is 4G?
Put simply, 4G is the successor technology to 3G, which until now has been the highest standard in mobile communications technology. ‘Successor in what sense?’ it may be asked…. Well to be classified within the 4G category, technologies must meet a specified set of requirements, as laid-out by the International Telecommunications Union – Radio division (ITU-R), which stipulates a peak-speed requirement of 100 Mbps for high mobility communications (ie. on-board trains, in cars etc) and 1 Gbps for low mobility communications (ie. stationary). The 4G technology which is being launched in the UK at the end of the month, 4G LTE (LTE, standing for Long Term Evolution), does not technically meet these peak speed requirements but due to the fact that the technology should represent a significant progression from 3G and a forerunner to fully compliant standards, ITU-R has acknowledged since late 2010, the system can be ‘considered’ 4G.
So, the UK’s 4G (LTE) network will leave room for future improvement (even by current standards) but in the meantime, just what does 4G technology bring to the table, for those eager, early-adopters..? As noted, the first 4G (LTE) network in the UK is being launched by Everything Everywhere (EE), the new company which unites previously separate entities, Orange and T-Mobile, which has comedically dubbed its new service ‘4GEE’. EE promises to provide “superfast internet speeds” on mobile, tablet and laptop. 10 major cities will benefit from the network during the initial phase of launch, with a further 6 cities network-ready by the end of the year. EE is mooting download and streaming speeds of 5 x what is currently on offer on 3G networks – based on typical 3G speeds of 1.5 Mbps and planned 4G connections of 8-12 Mbps. In fact, recent tests conducted by the Guardian newspaper in central London on the EE network suggest those estimates could be somewhat conservative. On 3G, the tests showed download speeds of 4.08 Mbps, while test speeds on 4G were an incredible 38.59 Mbps, around 10 x faster. However, it must be borne in mind that these tests were only conducted about a month ago, on a 4G LTE network with next to no users and hence without the levels of congestion which could be more typical in a year or so’s time. Nevertheless, potential effects of congestion notwithstanding, it seems a factor of 5 x speed difference doesn’t seem unlikely. As well as speed, EE point to the frequency’s capacity to maintain much higher speeds at longer distances from the base stations as well as the stronger connections within buildings where 3G connections would usually be attenuated.
How will 4G Change Mobile Communications?
One way to predict the impact of 4G on the way we communicate wirelessly here in the UK is to look to the US and South Korea where 4G networks have been established for some time. In that connection, it is worth mentioning that the UK is a relative latecomer to the 4G party. The principal change in mobile communications behaviour in these countries, unsurprisingly perhaps, is the dramatic increase in media consumption which has occurred as a result – and especially when it comes to video. Sites like Youtube have seen dramatic increases in mobile usage and here in the UK, we can reasonably presume BBC’s iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4OD and ITV Player will become popular favourites for mobile users. For web-owners, the higher levels of mobile video consumption will likely impact their content and data usage requirements tend to drive more applications to the cloud to guarantee availability, with increasing expectations on the part of the typical consumer. In this regard, the willingness of EE and other 4G networks to encourage and not penalise higher levels of data consumption, will make all the difference. Either way, for the people whose jobs could clearly benefit from the advance in mobile communications technology, for instance journalists covering live events, the cost implications if data costs do remain relatively high, will likely be much less of an issue. One category of mobile consumer likely to benefit disproportionately in the long-run, are those in remote and rural locations without high speed broadband access who will be able to access the internet and cloud networks on 4G at comparable speeds…
While 4G in the UK, technically speaking, isn’t actually 4G, 4G LTE clearly offers quite a step-change in mobile communications technology. Mobile internet download speeds around 5 x those of 3G have the potential to genuinely transform the way many of us use our mobile devices – be that PC, tablet or smartphone. Particularly with the latter two categories, we’re likely to see accelerated uptake of these devices from those looking to take advantage of what the new 4G technology can bring to them.
The knock-on effect for cloud-base applications is that now, more than ever, they need to be available round the clock, as more of us demand access to a myriad of services whilst we are on the move.
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PS. DAWN is an acronym for Dynamic Adhoc Wireless Network.