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4G, LTE and Spectrum Allocation – What You Need to Know (Part One)

As the name suggests, 4G is the fourth series in Questions on 4G and the successor to the well established 3G services available to most of us (although technically there is some debate about whether the current technology is actually ‘4G’). The faster speeds and greater stability offered by 4G make it a tantalising prospect for many in the near future, but the rollout of this technology is far from uniform.

The UK and Europe is somewhat lagging behind other parts of the world such as the US and parts of Asia in the rollout of next generation mobile data networks. Although not comprehensive, most major cities and beyond now have at least partial 4G coverage from providers like Sprint – in fact even India is starting to pull ahead with a rollout happening across Kolkata.

The reason for this delay in the UK and Europe is manifold, but here are a few key points on the topic:

  • Within the UK and Europe, the delay is closely linked to the freeing up of radio spectrum by the switch-off of the terrestrial TV channels. For the UK, this switchover is due to be completed very soon and the spectrum will then be auctioned off towards the end of 2012.
  • There are two competing technologies that are generally considered 4G. namely WiMax and LTE (Long Term Evolution). LTE has all but won this war and for the UK and Europe, it is highly doubtful that there will be any significant WiMax deployments. We are already seeing LTE trials in certain areas across the UK.
  • The introduction of 4G will deliver a potential step-change in the available bandwidth, capacity, range and reliability of mobile data connectivity.
  • Even though we know you’ll never get the theoretical 100Mb/s speeds that LTE is capable of, it will still realistically deliver 10x what 3G provides – comparable to today’s fixed line broadband speeds.
  • LTE will enable a richer mobile experience. Currently we expect a simpler and stripped down version of websites or applications when accessing them on a mobile device. Once we can reliably expect mobile connectivity that rivals today’s fixed line connections (coupled with ever improving hardware), so a richer and denser computing experience can be delivered to the user.
  • LTE and 4G will also bring a host of new mobile data services that are currently not feasible (or simply frustrating) using 3G. This includes current services such as streaming and cloud computing, which will become richer.
  • Next generation mobile data will also allow brand new technologies like real-time location based services, augmented reality overlays and probably even some we can’t conceive of today.
  • This will also bring an end to side-loading (physically copying data from one device to another) and create greater demand for content switching. Instead, content will be automatically synchronised through personal clouds and allow seamless transition of content from one device to another (think Dropbox or Evernote, but in real-time).
  • 4G will enhance the continued drive towards convergence. As devices of all sorts become smarter, so we’ll increasingly expect them to work together more intelligently and faster mobile access will play a part in that. Accessing desktops, locally stored content or smart appliances remotely will become increasingly common, interactive and interoperable.

Implementing 4G comes at a price. It will require an orchestrated effort from all stakeholders including infrastructure, operators, handset makers, mobile developers and consumers. We’ll be looking into what some of these challenges are in a future post.

Please click here to view part two of this series.

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