4G – What is 4G ?
4G is basically radio waves or frequency spectrum that is used for 4G mobile services and 4G mobile broadband in the UK. 4G is the fourth generation of mobile technology and will eventually supersede the third generation ( 3G ) of mobile technology that we have all used since 2003. The 4G radio waves are what 4G phones, 4G tablets and devices use to receive and send texts, voice calls and to download and upload files and documents over the 4G mobile internet.
Use of the radio waves or 4G frequency spectrum is governed by the UK government who have appointed Telecoms Regulator Ofcom to sell off the use of the 4G radio waves. Ofcom are selling the 4G licences to lease the 4G radio waves via an auction and the auction process will conclude around March time 2013.
The amount of 4G frequency spectrum ( radio waves ) in the auction is equivalent to 80% more than was available for the 3G frequency spectrum audit back in 2000. Just to recap, 2G mobile technology was best suitable for sending texts and making voice calls while 3G offered internet access via your 3G mobile phone for the first time.
4G Download Speeds
4G offers download speeds up to five times faster than 3G and as 4G evolves this is likely to increase to up to 20 times faster than 3G. This will make it so much easier to download web pages, view videos and download large files to your 4G phone, 4G tablet or 4G device. In fact some people are predicting that just like many people have abandoned there fixed phone line for a mobile one, then many will ditch their fixed broadband line for a 4G mobile broadband one.
A music album that takes 20 minutes to download onto your 3G phone will take around 4 minutes or less to download via your 4G phone or 4G tablet. The actual speeds unfold as 1 Megabit per second via a 3G mobile connection and around 6 Megabits per second via a 4G mobile connection.
It is the role of the Telecom Regulator Ofcom to ensure that the successful 4G mobile operators offer a nationwide and competitive 4G mobile service. This includes both indoor coverage and outdoor coverage ( both urban and rural ). Ofcom states a minimum of 98% population coverage is required for both indoor and outdoor coverage.
4G Frequency Spectrum Bands
The Ofcom 4G auction will sell off two bands of frequency spectrum ( radio waves ) and these are in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands. The 800 Mhz band is the best for transmitting 4G signals indoors whilst the 2.6Ghz spectrum is best to achieve faster 4G download speeds and for greater capacity which means that the 4G mobile operators offering 4G in the 2.6GHz band will be less prone to 4G speed reductions when many people are connected to the 4G network.
The new 4G networks will need to cope not only with an increased number of smartphone users but also an ever increasing amount of data usage as we all connect to the internet more often, watch HD videos more often, send larger emails, check maps more regularly and update our social networking profile all day long. In fact, it is predicted that 4G mobile data usage will see an increase of over 500% in the next five years in the UK.
4G Mobile Phones and 4G Tablets
Initially, 4G phones in the UK will come with a condition. There will be up to four frequencies that 4G phones and 4G tablets will work with. These are 800MHz, 1800MHz, 2GHz and 2.6GHz. Currently, 4G phones and tablets which have been made for the 1800MHz band will only work on that 4G frequency band. 4G phones on the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands will work on either 800MHz or 2.6GHz bands and the 2GHz frequency band will only become available after June 2014.
The above is important to take into consideration as if you look at a SIM only contract, then a 4G SIM may work with one operator’s 4G network but not another 4G network. This is particularly relevant if you buy a 4G phone that only operates in the 1800 MHz frequency range as it won’t work in any other band.
4G – When is it available
4G is already available in the UK via 4GEE ( which owns Orange and T-Mobile ). EE launched 4G in 11 cities on the 30th October this year and plan to launch 4G in another 5 cities by the end of 2012. EE short-circuited the 4G auction process to launch 4G after Ofcom approved a concession to launch 4G in some existing spectrum which was used for 2G services.
As there are 66 cities in the UK that leaves 50 cities without 4G as we enter 2013.
Vodafone, O2 and Three have to wait until they get the clearance from Telecoms Regulator Ofcom to launch 4G and this means that all three will be launching 4G no sooner than May 2013.
4G – When Do I jump Ship to 4G
The big choice for anyone seeking a 4G phone or 4G tablet is to buy now or wait till later. I think that if you work and live in London and want 4G downloads speeds five times faster than 3G then go for 4G now but bear in mind that the 4G phone you choose on 4GEE will only work on that 4G network and not on Vodafone 4G or O2 4G.
Vodafone and O2 are offering customers a “4G Price Promise” for those who buy a 3G version of a phone they will later be offering as a 4G phone. This means buying the 3G phone and then upgrading it to a 4G phone and receiving a discount as part of the mobile operators’ 4G Price Promise. Note : only some 4G phones qualify and this needs to be checked with the operator. More on Vodafone’s 4G Price Promise here. More on O2’s 4G Price Promise here.
Three on the other hand seem to be concentrating on the benefits of their existing 3G network until they get their 4G network up and running. They are now promoting their 3G network as “ultra-fast internet”. Three say that the only 2 mobile technologies that are classed as “ultra-fast internet” and these are 4G LTE and 3G DC-HSDPA.
Three say that their 3G DC-HSDPA network is quicker than any other 3G network in the UK and is only 22% slower than 4G LTE ( as found by Enders Analysis ) as displayed above. Three’s DC-HSDPA network will cover 50% of the UK population by 2013.
4G – Would I Recommend 4G to a Friend
I’m the editor of 4G.co.uk and would I advise a friend to buy a 4G phone right now? I don’t think I would unless my friend met 2 of the following points :
– It would be best if you not only lived but also worked in a city where 4G is currently available. 11 out of 66 cities will have 4G as we enter 2013.
– It would be best if you were an early adopter ( i.e. you must have the latest gadget whatever ).
– It would be best if you are currently a high mobile data user whose used to paying for high data usage, as 4G can gobble up your mobile data allowance in a very short time. E.g. The lowest cost on EE is £36 per month and this gives you 500MB of mobile data which could be consumed within 4 minutes when downloading a HD video over 4G. Then you are into using the free Wi-Fi or coughing up for a 4G data add-on for more 4G data allowance.
If you meet two of the above points maybe go for a 4G phone now, if not wait until around June time in 2013 and have a look at what all four 4G mobile operators are offering.