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What is 4G – What’s it all about?

27 Mar 2013

What is 4G?

4G is the fourth generation of mobile phone mobile communication technology standards. It is a successor of the third generation (3G) standards. A 4G system provides mobile ultra-broadbandInternet access, for example to laptops with USB wireless modems, to smartphones, and to other mobile devices. Conceivable applications include amended mobile web access, IP telephony, gaming services, high-definition mobile TV, video conferencing, 3D television and cloud computing. wiki

Who is doing what?

The UK has launched its 4G mobile internet services in 11 cities, with a further 6 planned and ambitions to serve 98% of the UK by 2014.  Denmark has two companies rolling out networks nationwide; Germany, France and Belgium have networks running in a number of key cities also.

Check out this map showing LTE roll-out throughout the world..


Why move to 4G?

The reason that so many trials are going on is that 4G is seen as a key enabling technology to meet Europe’s own “digitally driven growth”. The targets aim to:

  • have 100% of European citizens having access to broadband by 2013;

  • have 100% of Europe’s citizens having access to at least 30Mbps by 2020, and

  • have at least 50% of Europe’s citizens having access at 100Mbps or more.

What can 4G do?

4G’s promise of download speeds of 1 Gbps to a static user and 100Mbps to a mobile user clearly look attractive as part of this strategy. Early tests suggest that users were getting between 15 and 50Mbps over 4G in London and Manchester. This would suggest that it certainly has the potential to be part of the mix of services supplying broadband to consumers.

Another inherent advantage of 4G is that it is based on the IP protocol which the Internet is built on. This represents a shift away from traditional circuit switched technologies, rooted in the telephony industry. IP based networks favour data transmission as they are more tolerant of connections being broken and remade whilst data is being moved around, and should lead to more reliable, and ultimately, quicker data transfer.

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What needs to be done across Europe to exploit 4G?

Much of Europe still has “white spots” in the coverage map – areas of little or no mobile reception. Clearly no mobile reception also means no 4G. Different countries are adopting different strategies to tackle 4G roll out, often lead by their coverage. In Germany, for example, the move to 4G has been slower than some other countries as they have sought to improve coverage first.

The key factor for 4G is the availability of radio spectrum. The radio spectrum is already crowded and for 4G to be successful it needs quite a lot of spectrum. EE’s launch in the UK has been facilitated by their reuse of their existing 2G network for 4G services, so they have not had to license new frequencies.

This is such a key issue across Europe that the European Union has adopted a common position on managing the radio spectrum. It aims to:

  • harmonise the spectrum provision across Europe;

  • create sufficient spectrum space to help meet the “digitally driven growth” objectives above;

  • create flexibility competition, and

  • encourage reuse of spectrum.

Many countries have had, or plan to have, spectrum auctions to license the spectrum required. These auctions also raise large amounts of money for the governments concerned, with the recent Irish auction raising around eight hundred and forty million Euros.

4G has the potential to be a real game changing technology that helps to enable Europe’s vision of a “digitally driven growth” across the continent. Whilst the technology is showing it can deliver some of the benefits ascribed to it, there are still major challenges in the provision of radio spectrum and coverage to be met.

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