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Wednesday, 13 March 2013

4G: Is It All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

When first announced, 4G offered the future of superfast mobile broadband, and a distinct improvement over 3G. However, and while still the standard on which to base mobile Internet, 4G has experienced some difficulties in expanding within the UK. The LTE technology used for 4G means that networks use more bandwidth, and benefit from faster bandwidth to push download speeds up to between 10 Mbps and 50 Mbps - 8 Mbps to 20 Mbps is about the average.
Everything Everywhere, a partnership between Orange and T Mobile, were the first network to launch at the end of last year, with other networks arriving in 2013 after a government auction for the broadband spectrum was held. While EE has recently added more towns and cities to take its coverage to 37 locations, with an estimated 50 per cent coverage of the country in 2013, the market hasn’t significantly taken off. New 4G enabled networks like Hutchinson 3G, Telefonica UK, Vodafone, and HKT Unit are all going to be offering services soon to UK phone owners.

The auction itself didn’t raise as much as the government were expecting, and fell £1.2 billion short of predicted targets; that doesn’t mean, though, that the bidding for 4G was cheap, with Vodafone alone spending £800 million for their share of the network spectrum. Vodafone and other new networks will hopefully offer more choice for customers, with EE criticised for its limited data plans - £31 a month will only get you 500 MB of data, for example. With 4G being promoted around the ability to steam HD video, data limits appear to be in conflict with high speed downloads.

Initial adopters of 4G are also having to wait for the market to catch up, and for better deals to arrive. While EE do have premium data offers, whether or not customers are currently willing to spend more than £50 a month on a contract is debatable. It’s expected that the diversification of the 4G market by the end of the 2013 will bring more flexible contracts and SIM only deals, although there are no clear indications yet over what pricing plans will involve over the coming months.

Some early 4G users and testers have praised the speed of the network, which is faster than 3G, and much better in terms of transferring data. However, users have flagged up just how quickly 4G can burn through your data allowance, with one tester using 100 MB in four days. The speed boost enabled by 4G consequently has to be weighed, at least at the moment, against whether you really need that huge leap over 3G, or whether you can get by on wireless connections.

For now, 4G promises a lot, but is still too early in its development to really be called a success. Yes, people want faster mobile Internet, and as more businesses and individuals switch to cloud services, and rely less on a fixed land line, 4G connections will likely play a major part in getting more people onto superfast speeds in the next few years. Getting pricing right, and weighing up the investment that 4G and a 4G ready smartphone represents, is more of a challenge for users.

Author Bio: Liam James writes about technology, from structured cabling to the latest technology trends. In his spare time he enjoys reviewing and testing the latest gadgets.