What is 4G/LTE and what can it do?
4G (otherwise known as "LTE" i.e. "long term evolution") is the next generation of super-fast mobile networks, following in the wake of the 3G networks that have been built out over the past ten years and which now cover the majority of the country.
What is 4G or LTE?
With the expansion in particular of the mobile smartphone, tablet and applications markets over the past few years, users are now looking for solutions that will provide more bandwidth and faster downloads and uploads to support them on the move.
4G mobile is expected to offer users speeds of up to 25 Mb per second (Mb/s). This is around four times faster than current 3G mobile networks are able to offer, and matches many existing fixed broadband networks – especially those using copper-based ADSL technologies. The next generation of fixed networks, also currently in the process of being rolled out using mainly fibre-based technologies ("FTTP" (fibre to the premises) and "FTTC" (fibre to the cabinet)), will be able to offer download speeds of up to 100 Mb/second, which is obviously much faster than LTE. However given the fact that, for example, HD iPlayer streams currently require "only" 3.2 Mb/s, users opting for a purely mobile solution will be able to enjoy the full suite of service available now and for the foreseeable future.
What would I use it for?
Many now use a smartphone as their primary means of accessing the internet, using social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc). People are also increasingly using their mobile devices to consume media (particularly video and music) and also as replacements for cameras and other devices. Content can be stored locally on devices, but increasingly people are also using streamed services particularly for music (e.g. Spotify and internet radio service such as Pandora and TuneIn Radio) and video (e.g. BBC iPlayer and Netflix). Many service providers including Apple, Google and Amazon are also encouraging their users to make use of cloud storage services, and many device manufacturers are supposedly limiting memory space to encourage users to take-up cloud services.
The roll-out of 4G services will make it far easier for users to enjoy these sorts of services, both on the move and at home. There will inevitably still be issues around network coverage, particularly at first, but ultimately users will come to expect to receive at least the same quality of service from their 4G connections as they currently do from fixed broadband and WiFi networks.
4G is also expected to enable further acceleration of what is possible on mobile devices. Including:
- voice over IP services;
- video conferencing;
- advanced mobile gaming services;
- mobile internet TV and HD video services;
- telehealthcare services.
An alternative (and competitor) to fixed networks
We have already begun to see that many people are moving to mobile platforms as their primary means of communications, for both voice and data, and an increasing percentage of the population do not have a fixed connection at all.
Due to the relative costs of installing fixed and mobile networks, it is further expected that in many rural and outlying areas 4G mobile (used in conjunction with existing fixed infrastructure) is likely to be used as the primary means of bringing fast (if not technically speaking "super-fast") broadband to some communities.
If you build it will they come?
Of course, for many users while the advent of such high-speed mobile services will be great news, pricing will be key to encouraging take-up. Mobile packages in the UK typically range between £20 and £40 per month, depending upon the length or contract, type of handset, and amount of calls and data being purchased. Creation of a premium tier of 4G services at a higher price point makes sense if you are a network operator trying to recoup investment in new infrastructure, but is likely to attract mainly early adopters and business users rather than the masses. With fixed broadband, some operators (e.g. BT) are essentially charging the same for superfast broadband as they are for "normal broadband" which is helping to drive take-up amongst consumers. It will therefore be interesting to see whether the mobile operators adopt the same approach.
As background for this month's Download, Patrick Clark looks at what 4G is and how we will use it when it is adopted in the near future.
"4G mobile is expected to offer users speeds of up to 25 Mb per second (Mb/s). This is around four times faster than current 3G mobile networks are able to offer, and matches many existing fixed broadband networks – especially those using copper-based ADSL technologies. "