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What is 4G? High speed mobile networks explained

by uSwitch communications expert, Ernest Doku

Whilst we’re all still getting to grips with using the web via 3G internet on our phones, networks are gearing up to take things supersonic with new 4G speeds, coming to the next generation of mobiles.

What is 4G?

4G is very much the next step – the 4th Generation – of mobile communications, and stands to make the transfer of files or data to and from our phones blisteringly fast.

Currently available in the US, plans are in place to bring 4G (also known as ‘LTE’ or Long Term Evolution) to our shores in 2012/2013, once Ofcom helps sort out exactly how the service will be distributed amongst the major telecoms providers.

What is so good about 4G?

Whilst most smartphones currently surf the web using 3G networks (when not connected to wi-fi hotspots), the promise of 4G means a quality service akin to that found on home broadband – meaning that we will be able to do so much more with our mobiles.

4G promises speeds up to 10 times in advance of current 3G services, meaning that the opportunity is there for providers to bring a whole host of new kinds of content to our handsets, as well as bringing super-fast internet to new corners of the population.

Faster song downloads, viewing better quality video (high-definition shows on BBC iPlayer for example) and silky smooth web browsing are all on the cards in the future – provided you have a mobile phone capable of supporting these 4G networks.

O2’s Guru Jack is on hand to explain the difference between 3G and 4G, in his inimitable style…


What are the downsides of 4G?

Well, despite the speedy browsing and downloading wonder that is 4G, it may not do much for current networks when it comes to old-fashioned calling and sending text messages. If your infrastructure is currently patchy when it comes to reception, there is a risk that 4G may not fix it.

Also, the distribution of 4G might be a repeat of many of the problems we currently experience when using 3G in the outside world – namely that there are often gaps in coverage or reception that can throw our shiny new smartphone back into the Stone Age…

Also, the risk is that with speeds ten times faster, we could reach our network-imposed data limits ten times quicker that we currently do.

Whilst a 1GB data limit is a significant amount per month on existing bundles, one episode of The Apprentice (in standard definition) is currently equivalent to around 645MB…almost 2/3rds of our limit!

Factor in the additional size of HD content, and suddenly 1GB doesn’t sound like so much… Hopefully networks will see fit to be more generous with data caps when 4G is introduced, otherwise we may see higher mobile bills before long!

Where are the 4G phones?

Well, as the US infrastructure is somewhat ahead of ours in the UK, the first 4G phones have already landed in stores across America.

Whilst full-fat 4G hasn’t quite rolled out in the US just yet, these phones are enabled to take advantage of existing advancements and will be ready to go once the network is up and running at those impressive speeds.

A 4G version of the modular Motorola Atrix phone is currently available over there, whilst an offshoot of the landmark HTC Evo 4G found itself in UK shops with a revamped form and beefed up specifications as the HTC Desire HD.

Tablets haven’t been immune to the 4G revolution either, with our HTC Flyer being dubbed the HTC Evo View 4G over the pond and the Android-powered Motorola Xoom also gets a boost on US-network Verizon with a 4G-enabled variant.

When it comes to when the raft of 4G-enabled devices will be arriving in the United Kingdom, much like the service it may be late 2012 or 2013 before the mobiles reach the UK.

So when it comes to 4G, it may be a super-fast service and incredibly exciting, but the UK certainly seems in no hurry to embrace the future of wireless communication…