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The beginning of a new generation: 4G


After months of speculation, lawsuits and suspense, today sees the release of 4G to our airwaves in 11 UK cities. As well as other areas around the world such as the US and Singapore, 4G is expected to revolutionize a mobile way of life. Network EE, formerly known as Everything Everywhere is the first network provider to take the plunge with their 4G service in the UK, and it has been dubbed so advanced that we could run a business from it but what is the reality now it’s arrived and how is it different from 3G?

English: 4G LTE single mode modem by Samsung, ...

English: 4G LTE single mode modem by Samsung, operating in the first commercial 4G network by Telia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The term 3G has become a commodity in most people’s lives over the last five years. For a while, people weren’t educated to understand what 3G was – it was a buzz word that techie’s understood and others pretended to. However, all that changed with the release of smartphones – namely the iPhone, before others followed suit. Although 3G (or, mobile internet) was available on older handsets from the likes of Nokia, Samsung and LG it was rarely used because the design of the phone did not make 3G particularly useful.

As with the evolution of all things, developers and technology companies pushed the boundaries of what people need (and indeed want) to use their smartphones for and before long 3G was no longer adequate. Of course, at this point, remember that 3G is not the only type of mobile internet. Cellular data as it is correctly known is available in other forms too – most commonly today 3G, GPRS or EDGE but 3G is the most reliable in terms of coverage and performance.

It was always inevitable that something faster would come along eventually and LTE (long-term evolution) has heavily assisted this, just as we’ve seen the evolution of internet lines – 8MB internet was revolutionary 5-6 years ago and we all wondered what on earth we would need internet that fast for – but in most cities now, we’re using 20MB internet because the volume and frequency of data transfer has increased as well as technology for online streaming, gaming and the need for a mobile working life. This would not have been possible before companies like Network EE were willing and brave enough to take a leap of faith.

So – what can we expect from 4G? Well, fundamentally it is tipped to be 5-8 times faster than 3G, reaching speeds of 8-12 mbps and would cover to and from almost every extremity of the UK mainland, with services potentially reaching more remote areas such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. However, this will not be straight away.

Today, London, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and Southampton will have access to network EE’s 4G with Belfast, Derby, Hull, Newcastle and Nottingham planning on being up and running by the end of 2012. However, this is very broad – do we expect the coverage to extend far out of the cities themselves, and how patchy (if at all) with the coverage be?
Looking at the coverage map it still has much work to do, in order for 4G to provide a reliable coverage and the website does cover its back about the coverage being measured for outdoor use. However, it does look as if reasonable coverage will be available in most urban areas if not already and with investment, this will surely be extended to more remote parts of the UK.

Network EE are not the only company to provide 4G either. Although they are the owners of T-Mobile and Orange, other mobile providers have permission to provide 4G from early next year – Vodafone and O2 particularly however they are not eligible to provide the service because of legislation protecting Network EE.

In terms of pricing and bundles, Network EE have been criticised for not including enough data usage at pricing tiers. £36 per month will grant you 500MB (0.5GB) of data allowance which is akin to watching two hours of internet television (BBC iPlayer or YouTube for example). Given that 4G has evolved because of the mobile lives we all lead now, this is not very much. Network EE have responded to criticism stating that users can purchase more data allowance at £3 a month per 50MB or a 4GB bundle for £20 per month. These prices will inevitably reduce over time, once the service has secured a number of customers.

Technically not many of us are eligible for 4G services yet – and let this be a warning to you. If your device is not 4G compatible, there is no reason to buy a 4G data bundle. The recently released iPhone 5 will be compatible as will the other new Apple products – the iPad Mini and the iPad 4th Generation. If you aren’t sure, click on your device’s website to find out if it is compatible.

Overall, 4G will be an incredibly vital part of operating a business and be a huge role in our personal lives. There is work to do in terms of network coverage and price plans but whether we’re out and about wanting to catchup with a television program from the previous evening or collaborating on a document in real-time via the new Microsoft Office 2013 software suite, 4G will be a big part of our lives…until 5G of course!.

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