4th Generation (4G) mobile internet access is coming, and with it the promise of better performance and connection speeds than fixed line home broadband. For those that use internet on the move, 3G networks have been the industry standard since 2000, with connection speeds of up to 2 Megabits per second (“Mbps”). This is enough to run applications on the gadget of the moment, the iPad, but 3G has limitations, as anyone who has tried to watch streaming video or download a large attachment will know.
A look at the vital statistics reveals that 4G, also known as long term evolution (LTE) will be more than just a small step change over 3G. Indeed, mobile telecommunications have come a long way since the embryonic days of the early eighties. Think eighties mobile phone and a charmingly clichéd image of a stock broker with a brick sized appendage welded to their ear springs to mind. The gulf between the early technology and what is available just 30 years later is startling.
Some figures then. 1st Generation arrived around 1980, with data transfer speeds of around 2.4 Kilobits per second. Around 20 years later came 3G, and with it speeds of 2Mbps, which is roughly 800 times faster than 1G. Meanwhile, when it eventually arrives, 4G is likely to be around 10Mbps, more than 4,000 times faster than 1G (source: CCS Insight, quoted in The Sunday Times, 16.1.11). It will enable users to access enhanced content such as High Definition videos, making devices like the iPad genuinely useful and more than mere fashion accessories.
When is it coming? LTE has been installed in some European countries, including Germany and Norway and is likely to be further rolled out in 2012. Verizon Wireless, the US mobile network is also on track to equip some of the larger North American cities with LTE in 2011. Britain, however, is not expected to get the technology until 2013, largely because the mobile network providers have not yet committed to investing in the infrastructure needed to support the technology.
Until then, we have 3G to support our mobile broadband requirements. There a plenty of deals out there from the major network providers, many of which include laptops, tablets or iPads as part of a contract package. Remember to check mobile broadband coverage before signing up to any deal.