It’s official; raise the new masts, grab your new smart phones and get ready for wireless Internet like you’ve never seen before, 4G is coming to the UK – but don’t get too excited just yet.
In the plans laid out by Ofcom for the much-delayed auction of 4G spectrum, the regulator envisaged consumers will start getting access to the new superfast mobile services in the latter part of 2013. That’s another 12 months, whilst meanwhile, in countries like the US and Germany, 4G is already becoming commonplace – in fact, in the global top 100 broadband league table of cities the UK fails to even register an entrant.
There appear to be four main players already: Vodafone, O2, Everything Everywhere and Three. The first three seem certain to get the spectrum they need but the fourth place is set to go, either to Three or to a new entrant to the market. There is speculation that BT, TalkTalk or even Google might make a push for the fourth available spot, however most analysts think it unlikely a new entrant will be able to make a convincing enough business case to get involved; thus status quo will most likely be preserved.
Taking one step back from the corporate bidding war, the big question on the lips of most of the British public will be: why should we care about any of this? Answer: for two reasons; extra network capacity and effective broadband coverage for rural Britain.
Some startling figures released last month by Three show just how much data the modern smartphone user is consuming. An average Three contract customer now consumes 1.1GB per month, compared to just 450MB last summer; and this isn’t exclusively confined to Three. All mobile networks are coming under strain as we use our phones to watch videos, play games or check Facebook – so the extra capacity that 4G promises will be vital.
This is all very exciting about the potential for 4G in the UK, but should we not be a tad sceptical as to the real benefits, especially when large tracts of the UK still struggle to get sufficient 3G connection, ten years after the original 2002 3G auction?
Could this simply be another case of technology companies promising to deliver services far beyond their actual technical ability allows? Should telecom network providers not ensure they can provide efficient 3G to the rural areas of Great Britain first, before over stretching themselves to incorporate 4G?
It is a fact that poor or absent Internet connectivity threatens to do serious harm to tourism in rural Britain; that’s not a matter of opinion – it’s the message coming from Wales Tourism Alliance, which has said that ‘notspots’ puts local businesses at a significant disadvantage.
It’s simple – poor broadband provision across much of rural England and Wales is driving much-needed tourists away. The current economy and the squeeze on incomes means investing in rural broadband networks and effective 3G networks, provides vital support to remote communities, safeguards jobs in the tourism sector and will provide a high performance infrastructure that will be able to cope with the future moves towards 4G.