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4G in the UK: an increasingly distant dream

4G in the UK: an increasingly distant dream

Mobile fanatics will doubtless be aware of a growing breed of new phones and tablets emerging in the US - those which pack in LTE network connectivity and promise to work on the nation’s ever-growing 4G network.

But while the likes of HTC, Samsung and possibly even Apple eye the new lightning fast tech in the States, us in Blighty are left to languish on a 3G network that’s already been slated by Ofcom for not offering top-quality connectivity across the entire country.

And things don’t look as if they’ll be getting better any time soon. A report for the Financial Times earlier this week outlined a worrying delay emanating from the halls of Ofcom.


The regulator says that its planned auction of the UK 4G spectrum in the first quarter of 2012 will now happen in the first half of the year, with one source saying even this was “ambitious”. The upshot is that a rollout will not begin until the middle of 2013.

This isn’t just a worry for mobile broadband junkies. 4G infrastructure is central to the government’s plans to deliver the best super fast broadband network in Europe by the end of this parliament.

The network will lead to a blending of traditional broadband and mobile access, making it vital to business growth and therefore the UK economy at large. But at this rate, work on a 4G network will have barely begun by the time the country goes to the polls again in 2015.

So, who’s to blame? Ofcom says the networks and their squabbling over who gets what portion of the spectrum are at the heart of this. The way the regulator tells it, they haven’t been able to publish the terms of the planned auction because of looming legal action by O2.

ofcom logo large

The fear is that the big players are deliberately delaying 4G’s implementation as they have plenty of spare 2G capacity for carrying extra data, while the likes of Three do not.

But it all means that customers lose out and that businesses are going to fall behind in an increasingly competitive global environment. As almost everything is done online now, the lack of a well developed 4G network will cause untold issues for the economy.

The question is, can things be hurried along? It’s unlikely. As long as Ofcom faces legal threats, then it’s going to err on the side of caution.

What’s needed is government action to prove to networks why their role in this is so vital. 4G is not frivolous, it’s key to all our futures.

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