For those of you that are technically minded, you’ll have heard a lot of talk about 4G. It’s the latest network buzzword in the industry, so we thought we’d pull together some thoughts on what it is, when it’ll happen and what it’ll mean for you.
Over the next three to five years mobile users across the UK will benefit from networks getting even better. They’ll become faster and have more capacity as operators move towards technologies which are widely becoming known as 4G.
There’s a lot of 4G terminology flying around, all of which describe the different technology that a mobile network might be able to operate on, and the different speeds and capacity that these technologies can deliver.
So what are the terms you might hear about?
HSPA+ or High Speed Packet Access+
HSPA+ refers to the next evolution of 3G technology, and will bring increasing theoretical maximum speeds to networks such as Three. It is potentially able to support up to 128Mbps.
LTE or Long Term Evolution.
This is the technology most commonly referred to as 4G. LTE can support network speeds up to a theoretical maximum of 160 Mbps. It also supports improved (lower) latency, which is the measure of a time delay in a system, this results in faster browsing, improved real-time gaming and voice over IP. New radio spectrum is required to introduce LTE and this due to be auctioned by the Government early in 2012. Part of this radio spectrum is currently being used for TV broadcast and this will gradually be made available for mobile between 2012 and 2014 as analogue TV is switched over to digital.
LTE-Advanced will enable theoretical maximum speeds of up to 1Gbps. It will not be available for a few years. Mobile technology is continuing to evolve and as the Government releases further radio spectrum for mobile use, LTE-Advanced is set to be able to make use of it and continue to enhance the experience of the mobile internet.
4G or not 4G?
All the terms above are being used by networks in the UK and the US to refer to 4G technology. This can be somewhat confusing and is mainly being used as a catchall term rather than a strictly technical definition.
These are exciting times. At Three we’ve already spent millions growing the breadth and depth of our 3G network. We’ve upgraded our infrastructure to allow for more data at a faster speed, and so that we can bring price plans to the market that actively encourage our customers to get the most out of their smartphones with all you can eat data.
We currently operate on an HSPA network, and have already started moving towards HSPA+ (initially 21 Mbps). We don’t have any immediate plans to start referring to this technology as 4G as some others have done.
In any case, our customers will certainly see dramatic advances in our network speeds, and we’re really excited about this next step in our journey.
As we advance our network over the next few years with HSPA+, LTE and eventually LTE-Advanced customers will see a number of steps in performance. It’s important to point out that whilst the headline theoretical maximum speeds will increase dramatically the typical user speeds will not increase as much. For example, whilst theoretical maximum speeds will increase from 7.2 Mbps (HSPA) up to 160 Mbps (LTE) average speeds will move from 1.6 Mbps up to about 10 Mbps. Individual customer experience will depend on factors such as how close you are to a mast, the type of building and where you are in a building and how many other customers are using the same mast at the time.
The series of improvements that we’ll be making during our roll-out of HSPA+ and beyond will gradually push speeds up, allowing you to do more things on your phones, tablets and devices. Things like High Definition video calling and conference hosting from phones, multiple player gaming, and HD video streaming with less stuttering.
And we’re not stopping there. We’ll also be trialling LTE on our network for the first time later this year.
The overall result is a better and faster mobile experience. By making these ongoing upgrades, enhancements and developments to our network we’ll continue to provide people across the UK with the best mobile internet service on the market.