Is the UK ready for 4G?

Posted on 13. Mar, 2012 by in Digital Marketing

4G logoLet’s rephrase the title. Are UK carriers ready for 4G? Not quite. Are mobile handsets and tablets ready for 4G? Not yet. Do people want their phones to go faster? Yes please!

The UK is never far behind other mobile developed markets; Norway and Sweden rolled out 4G in 2009, and the US followed a year later. However, we don’t have the infrastructure to make 4G successful…yet. Earlier today, TheNextWeb reported that telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed that 4G mobile services could be available in the UK later this year.

There are still many flaws with the UK 3G network that carriers have still not mastered. Regardless of where I am in the UK, I find myself losing signal, or switching between 3G and EDGE. Don’t even get me started on walking into a basement in 3G-strong central London.

EDGE and 3G UK connections can often be very slow

EDGE and 3G UK connections can often be very slow, even in urban areas

There’s no doubt the UK would benefit from faster mobile data connections. We’re a nation of mobile fanatics – we watch videos on mobile, we use maps, we use apps and we connect using social networks. All these activities require a fast connection, and as such 4G would bring much benefit to consumers. But are we ready for it?

When 4G launched in Sweden and Norway back in December 2009, local wireless carrier TeliaSonera launched it’s 4G LTE service to 400,000 people in the centres of Stockholm and Oslo, but it was only available via. mobile dongles. Fast forward to last week  (over 2 years since the 4G launch) when the Wall Street Journal reported that 4G handsets were finally available on TeliaSonera in Sweden.

iPad 3 - 4G spec will work with 3G networks

iPad 3 - 4G spec will work with 3G networks

There are only a handful of 4G ready handsets on the market at the moment, such as the Nexus S 4G, but these are available outside the UK currently. And the new iPad? The new iPad uses 4G LTE. If you’re lucky enough to get a new iPad, fear not, it should work with the current 3G data network. According to PC Advisor, the 4G iPad works on network technologies, including HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA – which Apple claim are the fastest 3G networks available. Think of HSPA+ as 3.5G, somewhere between 3G and 4G.

Vodafone has claimed its 3G service will run on the new iPad at speeds of up to 28.8Mbps for users in major cities. O2, Three and Everything Everywhere have stated that 21.1Mbps is the maximum speed available on 3G for the new iPad.

Although UK consumers will be unlikely to take advantage of faster mobile and tablet broadband speeds straight away, it’s a step in the right direction for UK mobile communications.

Benefits of 4G

Speed – 4G represents the fourth generation of mobile wireless standards. As such, you’d expect it to be super fast – which it is. In fact O2 suggest that 4G speeds will be up to 10 times as fast as 3G.

Video Performance – 4G and mobile video consumption were made for each other. No more stop starting or buffering when you watch YouTube clips on your phone. Streaming will also be much more enjoyable.

Coverage – despite “not-spot” areas with 3G, Ofcom has added measures to it’s 4G proposal which could bring coverage to 98% of the UK, including many current UK rural areas.

The drawbacks of 4G

Battery Life – 4G LTE allows higher data bandwidth, but that comes at a price. If you’re tired of charging your iPhone battery once a day, 4G handsets may need to be charged two or three times per day.

Availability – as mentioned above, 4G handsets have yet to penetrate the UK market, so whilst the network might be available this year, don’t expect to be using 4G on your smartphone for another 6 – 12 months. Even then, it’s likely 4G will be tested in more cities. O2 are currently trialling 4G in London, so expect 4G to hit Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle to follow. Others will have to wait longer.

The Future looks bright for Mobile Marketing

We’re big mobile advocates at LBi/bigmouthmedia. 4G will provide a welcome boost to video and image consumption across mobile devices, which is good news for brands.  This month, Instagrams iOS app hit 27 million users worldwide…and an Android app will soon follow. Mobile video consumption is higher than ever before, and according to eMarketer, Mobile and Video will grab a bigger slice of the digital advertising budget pie in 2012.

What do you think? Is the UK ready for 4G? Or is the cart coming before the horse?

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  • Ian Massingham

    Close, but have a look at this, and you’ll see that the new iPad isn’t compatible with any existing 4G networks in Europe and a more realistic date for network availability in the UK is mid-2013. Possibly that high bandwidth heterogeneous networks or HetNet, which combines 3G networks with WiFi will be an interim solution though.

  • Simon Heyes

    Thanks for the link Ian. I agree it won’t work on UK 4G networks until carriers sort the frequency spectrum, but as mentioned in the post and your link, it should still work on current 3G networks, which is good news. I’m a WiFi only iPad user, so happy to watch the story unfold from the comfort of a coffee shop :)