4G has been much anticipated and long awaited, but is it all it is cracked up to be? Recent research in the US suggests that it isn’t quite living up to the hype, so anyone who is thinking of using 4G as their main way of connecting to the internet might be advised to wait awhile before doing so if the American experience is anything to go by.
Initially the reaction to 4G in New York was enthusiastic, however within a few months of it being launched people were experiencing occasional slowdowns; download speeds simply slumped. The probably reason is that this is the beginning of a network bottleneck as more users come onboard.
The wireless spectrum allocated to 4G is a fixed resource, and every time a new user accesses it the less bandwidth is available for everybody else. Across the US over a third of mobile phone users own a smartphone and around a quarter of these use it as their main device for accessing the internet. Tablets are also very popular and are the fasting growing sector of the computer market which is putting additional pressure on the networks.
The 4G technology that is used is LTE or Long Term Evolution. Theoretically this is able to provide download speeds of up to 12 Mbps, a big boost on the 3G speeds which are typically around 2 Mbps. The problem is that this deprecates rapidly as more users joint a cell. Every individual cell in the network can transmit a maximum of 50 Mbps in each direction to other cells and when the cell is busy this limited resource might be shared by several thousand individual users.
In order to address this, providers are charging more and are removing unlimited data contracts. The amount of data that a user can download is capped at 2 gigabytes a month with steep charges for every additional gigabyte downloaded.
Although there are problems with 4G services stateside, these might not apply in the UK. Early user experience with the new 4G network has to date been very positive and with some users reporting on compare broadband speed websites download streaming as fast as 20 Mbps, but currently there are relatively few users. The real test will be when more users come online. Until then, if you are lucky enough to fibre optic broadband, then you are advised to stay with it.
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This is a guest post by Claire Chat a Londoner interested in technology in general as well as in the mobile and telecommunication industry. If you want Claire to write you specific content, you can find email her here or contact her on Twitter (Claire_Chat).