4G internet has finally – almost – hit Britain. Orange and T-Mobile, as the conglomerate operator Everything Everywhere, has cleared the use of the 1800MHz frequency of their spectrum to carry superfast internet. Vodafone is ‘frankly shocked’, Virgin has expressed something along the lines of ‘Long live 4G!’ and Three is OK with it all, since part of the agreement is that the UK’s smallest operator will be getting part of that spectrum – so it too should be able to offer 4G internet ahead of the curve.
But what does this mean for us, the humble owners of superphones that have been itching to surf the net faster, better, longer for months?
When are we getting it?
Everything Everywhere and Three will technically be able to roll out 4G internet from 11 September. But the official word from Everything Everywhere is that it is looking forward to providing 4G services ‘later this year’.
There’s also the issue that there are currently no phones in the UK that can access 4G internet. It’s possible that Orange and T-Mobile will put out mobile broadband dongles that can access these higher speeds, maybe as kind of a taster for the speeds we’ll be able to reach.
What is 4G internet anyway?
4G internet is basically really, really fast internet, thanks to next-gen tech for transmitting mobile data, similar to the internet we use on our desktops.
How fast will it be?
We would be looking at mobile internet that’s around 10 times faster. An HD movie could arrive in 10 minutes, an album of music in about a minute, and webpages would load in in a couple seconds.
Why is it only available to Orange and T-Mobile?
When Orange and T-Mobile merged to become Everything Everywhere, they had by far the most capacity of all the UK operators.
They’ve since applied to refarm the 1800MHz band of the spectrum they own, which was originally licensed for voice calls, as it has more capacity than it needed for its customers. Telecoms regulator Ofcom approved the relicense for 1800MHz to be used to carry 4G data – but the other networks just don’t have the extra capacity to do the same, and they won’t until Ofcom holds the auction for the 800MHz and 2.1GHz bandwidths early next year.
The Samsung Galaxy S III is available in a 4G version
for US markets
When are the first 4G phones coming out?
Probably before the end of the year. Nothing has been announced, but Carphone Warehouse has already issued a statement saying that 4G is coming just in time for Christmas 'when many customers will be picking a new handset'.
There are currently no phones in the UK that can support 4G internet. However, because there are 4G phones out there, just not built for UK frequencies, it wouldn’t be difficult for manufacturers to pick their flagship devices – say the LTE Samsung Galaxy S III or HTC's One XL in the US – retune the 4G receiver and market that phone for the UK.
Apple iPhone 5 - 4G edition?
What about the 4G iPhone?
A 4G iPhone for the US has been rumoured but in classic Apple fashion neither confirmed nor denied. Considering there’s a 4G iPad and tons of 4G-packing competitors in the States though, it’s very likely – which means that it would be possible for the receiver to be tuned for the 1800MHz frequency. With the new iPhone meant to go on sale on 21 September, it would also mean two iPhones being released for the UK, one a superfast iPhone that won't be available to all operators – which would seriously upset the UK mobile market.
Does Everything Everywhere really have a big – and unfair – head start?
It definitely has a big head start because Three, Vodafone and O2 won't be able to participate in an auction for the areas of the spectrum that would allow them to offer 4G services until early next year. These two bandwidths that are being auctioned won’t be cleared for use until next summer, but it’s quite possible we could see the first 4G handsets by Christmas. A 4G iPhone – a phone with a singularly loyal and more importantly giant fanbase – could really skew customers towards picking whichever network actually has it. However, there are also challenges for those first to market, including educating customers and getting them to understand and want 4G internet.
Though 4G internet on your phone is going to make all internet-related activities much faster, many people with smartphones are not actually streaming video, downloading movies or even music. For these lighter users, superfast internet will be less of an obvious sell.
Will 4G be expensive?
No word on pricing has been announced, though like any new technology, costs are likely to be higher at the outset, settling down as the tech matures and other operators enter the market. One thing's for sure though, Orange and T-Mobile will have to come up with a whole new set of 4G data plans – at the moment, data allowances top out at 1GB of 3G internet, which won't exactly cut it if customers are being offered superfast internet capable of dowloading a gigabyte in a few minutes... then told that's it for the month.
As for Three, it could really test their famed 'truly unlimited' internet offering.
Check out our Ed Natasha Stokes chatting about 4G on the BBC Breakfast Show!
What do you think? Will you be grabbing the first 4G handsets as soon as they land, or will you wait and see? Tell us in the comments below!