UK 4G mobile plans attacked

Mobile mast

The rush to provide higher bandwidth services to UK mobile users could be at the expense of more limited geographical coverage, a leading engineering body has warned.

With the UK gearing up towards 4G mobile networks, with a spectrum auction due in 2012, businesses and consumers should gain access to near-ADSL broadband speeds from mobile devices.

However, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) believes that the move to 4G technology could drive "a shrinkage of 'effective' mobile coverage". Although 4G will provide both more bandwidth and better use of the radio spectrum, it will do so mostly by making use of the higher frequency bands. This, in turn, reduces the coverage available from any one transmitter.

According to the IET, 4G networks alone will not be enough to ensure full coverage, and operators will need to turn to femtocell technology to fill in the gaps.

The engineering body has warned that additional spectrum capacity will not be enough, especially to meet the demands of data-hungry devices such as smartphones. The IET also cautioned that, although there is stiff retail competition for mobile customers, network competition is narrowing. The Government should, it argues, consider mobile and fixed communications together as part of an integrated strategy. The body has written to the Culture Secretary expressing its concerns.

"It is important for the Government and regulators to promote a vision for the future of mobile superfast services that inspire sustainable investment and wider competition," said Professor Will Stewart of the IET.