4G networks could be coming to the UK soon if a campaign by mobile carrier Everything Everywhere is successful. The firm, which was formed from a merger of T-Mobile and Orange, is urging consumers to join the ‘4G Britain’ campaign to force the government to speed up the introduction of the super-fast service. With handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S3 now sporting quad core processors under the hood it seems fitting that network speeds are finally catching up on smartphone performance.
Operators have been fighting over the distribution of frequencies that can be used for 4G which has caused a delay in the service being rolled-out. Everything Everywhere is in possession of a great deal of these frequencies and it has been suggested that its campaign to lobby the government into introducing the new networks is based on self-interest.
The incredible rate at which data can be transferred has come a long way since the earliest days of mobile phones, when the first, analogue, radio-based systems were dreamed-up just after the Second World War. Engineers at Bell Laboratories came up with the idea that police cars could be fitted with phones but it wasn’t until 1973 that the first call was made on a truly portable telephone, by Motorola’s Dr. Martin Cooper to his rival at Bell Laboratories, Joel Engel. See SimplifyDigital’s History of the Telephone feature.
1G is born
By this time microprocessors had been introduced to the analogue radio systems creating the earliest 1G networks. 1983 saw the first commercially available mobile phone going to market and the technology continued apace. 2G was introduced towards the end of the eighties seeing voice signals digitized which increased clarity and allowed more people to use a network at the same time. 1G and 2G networks were capable of transferring data at 9.6 Kbps, with these speeds later increasing to 28.8 Kbps when newer, improved handsets were introduced.
The advent of 3G
The next step was the 3G networks that are still being used today. First introduced in Japan in 2001, 3G brought a raft of improvements to mobile connectivity, allowing fax and internet transfer as well as clearer audio quality. Frequencies for the networks are standardised across different countries allowing devices to be used anywhere and data can be transferred at a vastly increased rate. Users have access to a theoretical limit of 384 Kbps, with up to 144 Kbps being available when moving at speed (if you’re in a car, for example). Typical speeds tend to reach around 200 Kbps, slightly lower than the maximum but still an enormous improvement on 2G performance.
Where 3G sends data over a single frequency, 4G sends it over hundreds of channels at the same time, vastly increasing the amount of data that can be transferred. Those channels will also be clearer due to a technology known as adaptive processing which can detect interference and switch the single to another frequency.
Why isn’t 4G Available in the UK yet?
However, 4G is an umbrella term rather than one particular standard. When most people mention 4G networks they are talking about Long Term Evolution (LTE) which is based on the same technology that underpins 3G, making it very attractive to existing mobile operators. US network AT&T, which has been introducing LTE to its customers and using it with the latest iPad, claims its speeds are up to ten times faster than 3G.
4G can also be used to describe Mobile WiMAX, a network which was first introduced in Korea in 2006 and has been used by certain US carriers as well. WiMax works differently to traditional mobile networks and is better thought of as long-range Wi-Fi.
Due to the similarities that LTE has to existing 3G technology many UK networks have come out in favour of it. However, the frequencies on which UK networks can run LTE are different to those in the US which will cause problems with compatibility. For instance, US versions of the new iPad which run on 4G networks in North America would not be able to connect to them in Britain and vice versa.
So even if Everything Everywhere’s campaign is successful there are still going to be problems with the introduction of 4G that need to be worked out. Considering Korea had the very first 4G networks six years ago and similar services are available in 34 countries around the world the UK is a long way behind and has some catching up to do. Exactly when this will happen remains to be seen…
Broadbandwatcher would like to thank Chris Helsby of Dialaphone for this guest post.