4G and the mobile capacity crunch


Inside the Enterprise: Any heavy user of smartphones, tablets or laptops will crave a faster mobile broadband connection.

Whether it is downloading a PowerPoint or viewing a corporate video, there are few applications that will not benefit from higher speeds. But it will be at least two years before next-generation mobile networks roll out in the UK.

The first stage of that process, a spectrum auction, is planned for next year, with regulators expecting the first operators to turn on coverage in 2013. Where operators' existing 3G masts are suitable for 4G, turning on the faster connections should be relatively quick: LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is largely an incremental upgrade to current 3G and HSDPA networks.

For businesses, the trade off between coverage, and capacity, needs to be handled with care.

LTE and the main alternative, WiMax offer the promise of mobile networks approaching wired internet speeds. The definition of "wired" speeds does rather vary: in one warned operators against increasing speeds at the expense of coverage.

For businesses, the trade off between coverage, and capacity, needs to be handled with care. Already, there are parts of the country with strong HSDPA/HSUPA, or 3.5G signals, but there are also plenty of places, even in cities, that struggle to deliver a reliable 3G signal. Even a 2G data signal cannot be taken for granted across all of the UK, which is a real barrier for businesses in areas such as transport, logistics and field service. And the UK's support for 3G on trains is, on many lines, woeful; public Wi-Fi is largely still patchy.

Then there is the other dilemma: should 4G networks be used mostly for fixed communications to fill in the, mostly rural, wired broadband "not spots" or should the capacity be used to feed data-hungry iPads and iPhones? Should businesses have access to priority mobile broadband "fast lanes", separated from consumers' movies and music downloads? Or is net neutrality too important to give up?

Ofcom, the industry regulator, recently extended its consultation on the 800MHz and 2.6GHz mobile spectrum until 11 August.

Businesses need to make their views known to the regulator as well as to their telecoms providers if they don't want to face the broadband equivalent of a busy tone.

And do feel free to let us know your views too: comments@itpro.co.uk

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.