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Lee Myall (UK) - Laying the Foundations for 4G

Mobile data is set to rocket by more than 500% in the next five years according to Ofcom. As smartphones and tablets become a staple part of our everyday lives, the demand for mobile data is reaching its peak and the pressure on mobile operators to provide customers with proficient internet services is growing rapidly.

In preparation, Ofcom has announced the largest ever auction of mobile spectrum in the UK. This will take place by the end of the year and mobile operators like Three and Everything Everywhere have already announced their 4G mobile broadband networks. But, what impact will this have on our fixed networks? And why does this matter either way?

We know that 4G will give us fast connectivity to the provider’s mast, many multiples over current speeds. So far so good. However, as soon as data hits the mast, responsibility is passed to the network operators to ensure that the fixed infrastructure doesn’t cause a bottleneck for mobile data. Unfortunately, in most cases existing infrastructure just isn’t up to the task. Expecting 4G to run over current networks is like expecting a heavy goods vehicle to leave a weak bridge intact – the odds are most definitely stacked against it. In order to overcome this and satisfy demand for 4G, UK networks won’t be able to rely on existing network infrastructure and will need to commit to investing in more fibre to accommodate the growth in data volumes.

With this in mind, as the transition to 4G unfolds, the industry as a whole will need to promote the use of Wi- Fi hotspots in order to take the pressure off the network as much as possible. But unfortunately network operators are going to find themselves between a rock and a hard place; before they can completely rely on Wi-Fi, there is the chance that the existing offload infrastructure will need to be upgraded too. The current Wi-Fi experience consumers are used to may not be able to match up to 4G speeds, so this is something that will need to be reviewed in order to provide users with the best overall experience when switching between 4G and Wi-Fi.

The launch of 4G is an inevitable and exciting evolution in mobile. Unlike the launch of 3G, the rich content and services are already there to be consumed; it will be a stampede, not a gradual uptake. With high expectations from consumers, it is imperative that operators prepare themselves as much as possible as the move towards 4G accelerates in the coming months. The key to success lies in the hands of the network providers. They must consider how they can advance their current technologies to ensure the right level of support for the foreseeable demands of 4G. With this accomplished we will start to see the full benefits realised, and consumers growing in confidence to treat 4G as they do fixed broadband.

By Lee Myall, UK Director at Interoute

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