What will 4G internet access mean for your business?


Date: 10 August 2011

Speedometer representing 4G internet speed

How fast is your internet connection? (Image: cotaroba on Flickr.)

Mobile internet is becoming more and more important in our lives. You can't move for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android smartphones - and they're changing the way we do things. For instance, instead of printing out a map before you go somewhere new, do you ever just rely on your phone instead?

The thing is, as more people start accessing the internet on the move, we risk overloading the 3G mobile phone networks, which we rely on for internet access. It's just like a busy road - when too many of us try to use mobile internet at once, it gets congested.

In short, we're running out of space - in fact, back at the start of last year O2 talked about capacity challenges it was facing.

But fear not: 4G - the next generation of mobile internet access - should come to the rescue.

What is 4G?

4G is the fourth generation of mobile communication standards. The majority of phones currently use 3G, which is just the name for what carries the data from your phone to the internet and vice versa.

3G doesn't have enough space to support a market that, according to Ofcom, ballooned 2,200% from 2007 to 2009.

The new 4G technology will give the mobile phone networks more room for everyone's growing data appetites. It should also provide faster connection speeds.

In fact, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has set standards for 4G services, saying it should be possible to transfer data at 100Mbps (megabits per second) when moving (on a train or in a car) and a whopping 1,000Mbps for when you’re walking or sat having a coffee.

To put that into perspective, most home broadband connections run at under 16Mbps. If it delivers what it promises, 4G could become how we all access the internet - no matter whether we're on the move or at home.

How will 4G benefit businesses?

While 3G has made it easier to work on the move (a train delay of an hour is no longer an hour’s work lost), 4G could make this a permanent option. Faster, more reliable speeds open up the potential for true office-less businesses, saving money and increasing productivity.

Some services - like voice over IP and cloud computing services - only work well when you have a steady internet connection. A 4G connection could give your business that, no matter where you are.

When will 4G hit our smartphones?

Don't get too excited yet though. Sadly, the UK is falling behind the rest of the world in 4G deployment. Japan already has a 4G service, while Verizon is rolling out coverage in the US.

Here in the UK, on the other hand, we're waiting to find out when the mobile phone networks will be able to bid for the rights to run 4G networks in the UK. We're still a long way off seeing full 4G service.

So, while in the long term 4G will transform how businesses view remote working, we will have to do with the halfway house of 3G for at least another 2 years.

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