Should we be moving to 4G just yet?

      

Should we be moving to 4G just yet?

Ian MitchellLaunched on 30 October, EE (Everything Everywhere) has finally brought 4G technology to the UK promising network speeds up to five times faster than 3G.  But is the fourth generation of wireless communication services all good or are there some potential pit falls? Should businesses jump on the band waggon at the first opportunity or hold back until the competition steps up?

 

One of the first considerations is location. Irrespective of whether or not your business wants to adopt the latest 4G technology, not all areas will be able to access it straight away.  Initially, EE (parent company of Orange and T-Mobile) has launched coverage across 12 UK cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton, promising coverage to a further five including Belfast, Derby, Hull, Newcastle and Nottingham by the end of 2012.  An ambitious rollout to less central regions is also on the cards and, indeed, EE aims to provide 4G to 98% of the UK by 2014.

 

As well as needing to be in a 4G accessible area, users need to have a 4G compatible device.  For an EE contract, the 4G enabled device must have been purchased on the Orange or T-Mobile network, with one exception, the iPhone 5.  Currently the choice of handsets is limited to just a few, although it is expected that more will become available next year when other providers enter the forum.

 

4G Logo

So what can users in a 4G accessible area with a compatible device expect from the new service?  Apart from the reassurance that the UK has finally caught up with much less developed countries including Angola, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, 4G promises users supersonic speeds, akin to that found on home broadband.

 

With 4G offering the opportunity to get so much more done on the move, it is likely that the new technology will accelerate the current remote working trend.  With the ability to hold HD video calls with clients or team members, create and stream online videos, download files quickly, send large attachments and automatically back up documents, images, settings and address books on the go, the requirement to pop back into the in the office will become increasingly unnecessary.

 

Enabling users to work from anywhere, it is widely predicted that mobile use will quickly overtake computer usage.  With instant connectivity, external workers can connect to office systems from the road, enabling quicker customer responses and ultimately improving overall customer satisfaction.  And with increased speeds and efficiency also come the inevitable financial savings as, after all, time is money.

 

But as with many business decisions, cost will be a significant consideration as to whether or not many businesses adopt the 4G technology.  EE has announced its UK 4G business tariffs with plans starting at Â£30 per month for a 24 month and heading north from there.  Be warned however that if employees go over their data allocation (which is easier to do on a 4G phone) they will be charged for additional data downloaded.

 

Early adopting businesses could pay more in the long run as rivals Vodafone, Three and O2 are not able to access to the spectrum until 2013.  The wider the choice of provider the more likely we are to see more competitive prices for 4G technology.  And, if the current aggressive marketing war between Vodafone and 02 turns into a 4G price war, businesses might do well to wait for potentially lower tariffs, cheaper prices and better terms. 

 

However, it is estimated that by the time the EE monopoly comes to an end, over 20 million 4G users will already be signed up as many businesses move mobile network provider to access 4G sooner. 

 

As well as the cost implication, the speedy browsing and downloading tool does not assure users of uninterrupted signal.  4G technology is not guaranteed to resolve patchy reception when using the device for calls and the sending and receiving of text messages.  If this is currently a problem, 4G may not fix it.

 

Also, the non-uniform roll out of 4G may mean there are gaps in coverage for users. Move outside a 4G enabled area, and the service will default back to 3G speeds or lower. As more contenders enter the market, however, coverage will certainly improve.

 

This issue is further extenuated when using a 4G handset abroad.  According to a study by GSMA Wireless Intelligence, it is expected that there will be more than 200 live networks using at least 38 different frequency band combinations worldwide in three years' time.  This poses a significant problem, as handsets operating on 4G in Europe are unlikely to be able to pick up 4G in Asia due to the different band frequencies.

 

EE is also still in the process of signing partnership agreements with foreign networks and confirming roaming prices so users are advised to be careful when using their 4G phones abroad.  As with all such super-fast speeds, network imposed data limits could be reached much more quickly, resulting in higher than expected monthly bills.  1GB may seem a large monthly data limit with 3G technology, but with 4G, this limit could be easily reached and significantly exceeded, which may prove costly.

 

4G aside, there are now so many telecoms systems and services available that making the right choice can be a truly daunting prospect for businesses.  Our advice is that businesses should look at their overall structure and broader telecoms requirements rather than what's the latest technology available, and work with a proven telecoms provider to develop a solution specific to their business needs.  

 

So 4G or not 4G? We are delighted that 4G has finally reached our shores but at this stage remain hesitant to recommend a switch for all businesses to the new system as for many it won't be the most appropriate or competitive service for their business needs or budgets.

 

Let's not forget though that it's a fast moving sector and there are plenty who speculate that, like broadband, 4G may even change the way in which we work and even interact with each other on a daily basis.  If the hype turns out to be true, it will still be fun to look back and reminisce about our current slower pace of life before 4G!

Written by Ian Mitchell at 09:00

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