There’s been a considerable amount of (understandable) excitement about O2’s 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) trial, which kicked off in London yesterday.
It means selected users will be able to log onto a network with speeds that potentially run up to 50 Mbps.
That’s impressive in itself. But if you think this is going to herald a quick rollout of 4G networks across the UK, you’re mistaken. The trial is limited to just 1,000 users, all from commercial partners of the network.
That means staff at O2 outlets and shops like John Lewis will be able to use 4G, while us plebs have to make do with a 3G network which is still very patchy across the city.
That’s all very well for the privileged few, and may tell O2 more about how the network will cope with demand, but it doesn’t bring a wider launch any closer.
BT and Everything Everywhere are also working on an LTE trial in Cornwall, as they look to see how future mobile broadband will affect the wider use of the web in rural areas.
But it’s the battle between networks, remarked on here before that’s holding up 4G’s rollout to the rest of the UK.
Ofcom says that squabbles between carriers mean any sort of meaningful service won’t be up and running until 2013 at the earliest. O2 appears to be using this trial as a way of showing Ofcom it wants to be at the forefront of the spectrum grab which is due to take place towards the end of next year.
However, the limited scope of this trial, despite being bigger than BT’s rural experiment, means it’s going to have to work very hard to convince the wider public that it’s 4G service is going to be worth getting excited about.
The fact is, this trial comes as US networks are starting to push harder to get 4G spread across the States.
The UK is starting to look very backward by comparison, with recent reports suggesting that Africa could also be ahead of us when it comes to next-gen networks.
O2’s attempts to show it means business with LTE are laudable, but as it doesn’t include wider members of the public and is limited considering London’s seven million population, it’s not going to change things as quickly as we need.
What must happen is reconciliation between the networks, a willingness to allow Three to get in on the LTE action (a bugbear for both O2 and Vodafone) and a firm commitment to an earlier rollout date.
The risks of our phones, and our economy, being left behind, are too great if this doesn’t happen in the next few months.