4G – is now the time to join the party?
Peter Gradwell, founder and owner of internet telephony provider Gradwell, explains what 4G can do for you – and asks if it’s worth waiting before joining in
On 30 October, EE – the company that owns Orange and T-Mobile in the UK – launched its fourth generation (‘4G’) service in 10 cities with the promise of much faster broadband speeds on the move.
The launch attracted plenty of headlines – but having read them, you can be forgiven for being rather confused. Why is only one company currently offering 4G services? Why isn’t there a 4G signal where I need one? If I do subscribe, will I actually get a better service? Should I upgrade now, or wait for the fuss to die down?
First, some context. Despite complaints by its main rivals – Vodafone and O2 – EE has been allowed to launch its services ahead of the competition. That’s because it had some spare spectrum available (spectrum being the radio waves that mobile phone companies license to deliver mobile services). So if you have a contract with another operator you’ll need to wait until 2013 before you can get 4G.
Just how different will 4G be? For many years now, we’ve been used to using mobile handsets that use third generation technology, so you’ll be used to seeing a 3G symbol on your phone and used to the speeds you can browse the internet. You’ll also be well aware of those places where the signal drops and downloading anything takes a long time.
Therefore, 4G is the next big step in mobile communications and will mean that you can download things much faster. It won’t yet match some of the speeds you might enjoy using broadband at home, but it will come close. It will also mean that the rich media experience you probably are used to at home – with video and audio running at the same time – will at last be available from the palm of your hand.
So for private individuals there are clear benefits. You should be able to stream video to your handset much more fluidly (goodbye endless ‘buffering’ messages). You’ll be able to use 4G to make and receive better-quality audio and video calls. Just as you can load several webpages at once on a desktop PC, the same should be possible from your mobile – meaning you can get more done, more quickly. It will also be good news for software developers who will produce a new generation of smartphone apps that can take advantage of faster connection speeds.
For businesses, and especially SMEs, the benefits stretch even further. You’ll be able to send and receive larger, more complex documents more rapidly, opening up the option for remote-working for thousands more people. With a fuller rollout of 4G, even people in rural locations should benefit from a reasonable standard of mobile broadband – an exciting prospect for any business that isn’t based in a major city.
However, there are some things to bear in mind before you make the leap. Firstly, right now you’ll need a new contract with EE and a new handset. You also need to think about how much data you think you’ll use – with a quicker connection, downloading a lot more data will be easy. Currently, none of EE’s 4G contracts offer an ‘unlimited data’ option.
Also, 4G coverage is far from universal right now – 10 cities at the moment and a further six from the end of this year. Once you move out of a city, you’ll drop back to a slower connection. If you’re a regular rail user you’ll be used to your signal dropping, to start with at least, this won’t go away under 4G.
There is a further complicating factor – and that’s the claim that the operator you use will affect the sort of 4G service you’ll get. With 3G you’ll probably have had the odd time when you have a signal but a friend sitting next to you hasn’t. In the case of 4G, there is talk that since EE’s 4G service uses a higher radio frequency it won’t travel through walls so easily.
This won’t necessarily become a problem. In fact, I think we’re not far away from the day when we each have a single handset that can switch between a 4G signal outdoors and a solid wifi signal data indoors – with your handset switching between the best connection without dropping a call. This opens up the exciting possibility of us each having just a single phone, with a single personal phone number for use either at home or at work.
So, 4G has the potential to revolutionise the way we use smartphones although the true benefits will only become clear when we’re all using 4G as we use 3G today. The question is whether you join the party now, or wait till later – the one number, one handset revolution may be just around the next corner.Tagged in: 4G, EE, everything everything, O2, Orange, smartphone, T-Mobile, Vodafone
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