4G – is it working?

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4G is at last on its way, and if you live in one of the first 12 cities to get it in the UK, then you may be using it already. Certainly it has been a long time coming, but now that is has arrived is it working as we all hoped it would? Let’s take a closer look.

The reason 4G has been so long coming to the UK has amongst other reasons, been down to the available radio spectrum. Although in the future 4G will use both high frequency (2.6 GHz) and low frequency bands (800 MHz), until analogue TV was switched over to digital the (800 MHz) was not available. These frequency bands will shortly be auctioned by the government; currently the date is set for January 2013.

However, in order to advance things a little faster, Ofcom liberalised an existing EE 1.8 GHz high frequency band so that it could be used for 4G communications using both LTE (long term evolution) and WiMAX protocols.

Theoretically 4G can deliver blisteringly fast mobile broadband download speeds and it is Ofcom’s intention that eventually 98% of the UK population will have access to it, though there are significant differences between high and low frequency 4G networks.

2.6 GHz 4G can handle very large quantities of data and is the ideal system for highly populated conurbations, though the range is limited and large numbers of masts are required. 800 MHz is not able to handle as much data, but it has a much greater range, thus requiring far fewer masts, and so it is ideal for less populated rural locations.

In practice we can expect download speeds of between 5 to 10 times those we get with 3G networks, though it will give a much bigger boost than that to the more rural users who currently struggle to get any kind of decent 3G service.

However many people have expressed disappointment with the EE 4G implementation, saying that it is inconsistent, though other users have been reporting download speeds as high as 17 Mbps. There had been concerns that indoor coverage using the 1.8 GHz would be poor, put early experience had shown that to be wrong; indoor coverage is nearly as good as outdoor.

Naturally it is very early days and it is inevitable that there will be teething problems. Once the new frequency bands are made available and more network provider’s switch on 4G services, quality of service along with the affordability of mobile broadband deals can only improve enormously. With 4G mobile broadband will have at last come of age.

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