Published on August 28th, 2014 | by Alexis Argent0
4Gon Discuss 4G – A UK Network State of Play Update with Comms Business Magazine
What is the landscape like out there?
The 4G landscape is still in the process of being formed, with EE being first out of the gate. EE have done well to get where they stand, setting up the UK’s first 4G network a year ahead of the competition and only recently being chased for 4G dominance by the likes of O2 and Vodafone. This has proven to be an advantage as EE now have 4.2 million customers signed up to a 4G contract and 5,500 corporates using 4G. They still hold a comfortable lead over rivals Vodafone and O2, who both have just over one million customers signed to a 4G contract.
Enthusiasm for the technology is still building as more people are signing up for 4G contracts over 3G, and EE are on target to have 6 million customers by the end of the year. However, this rapid growth has not occurred without strain on the network. RootMetrics have claimed that the rate of EE’s 4G speeds is slowing as a result of more concurrent users. To combat this, EE has introduced a double-speed 4G network to keep away from the age of buffering, finding 1 in 3 new customers signing up to this service.
Even the BBC is getting involved in development, demonstrating a 4G streaming TV service. The 2014 Commonwealth Games is being used as a platform to introduce live TV events streaming over a 4G signal. The BBC, Huawei, Qualcomm, and EE are all working together to provide a mobile-viewing service straight to smartphones. In theory, the service will improve picture quality, reduce dropouts and buffering, and we expect it to be something to watch for in the near future.
Fundamentally, there is still some way to go before we can say the UK 4G landscape has truly peaked at its maximum, but with the emergence of competition to EE from Vodafone and O2, we could now see subscriptions and coverage increase across the entire UK.
Are resellers picking up on the 4G opportunity?
It is difficult to ignore the popularity of 4G, end users are benefitting from the improved speeds and data transfer, and businesses are able to deploy systems that were not previously possible on 3G or older technology. Workers are able to stay online while away from their desk, and applications that require fast data speeds, like video conferencing, drastically increase productivity.
Manufacturers such as Peplink are leading the way in providing advanced 4G Router solutions. The Peplink Pepwave MAX 4G Router product line is very popular, and is being deployed in a whole range of industries and verticals. Global police forces and emergency services use these devices to bond cellular links for live HD video streaming from their vehicles, to building and civil engineering companies that need the corporate LAN extended to portakabins on the side of the motorway, or in the middle of a field for a construction project.
After speaking directly with Martin Langmaid, Solution Architect at Peplink, he believes their range of bonding routers can make 4G more attractive to customers, and deployments much easier to configure for the reseller.
Most resellers struggle to see how to use 4G as a viable WAN bearer in their deployments. It either becomes an under-utilised and costly WAN access method when only used for failover, or has a detrimental effect to user experience when used as an active WAN link due to patchy coverage.
Peplink is enabling the use of 4G in a number of ways. We have a full range of multi-cellular routers for both load balancing and VPN bonding, providing diverse connectivity in poor coverage areas. We also offer easy, granular, drag and drop control over how and when WAN links should be used and by what traffic types – which mitigates the latency issue associated with certain applications over 4G. When a resilient, high bandwidth connection is needed, we also have SpeedFusion VPN – our bonding technology, that allows for seamless failover and bandwidth aggregation across fixed lines and multiple 4G cellular WANs. Using these technologies, the best use of 4G can be made in all types of deployments – which is driving new opportunities in all scenarios where only the highest bandwidth, most resilient and ubiquitous connectivity will do.”
Another 4G hardware manufacturer, Conel, was able to provide a solution for buses and coaches. Being able to offer customers internet access on the move is a major asset in the transport industry. The Conel 4G LTE router LR77 V2 provided an effective and high performance solution, and thanks to O2’s tier 3 data centres and pricing, businesses can be confident that customer information is transmitted securely at a low cost.
While enterprise markets are dipping their toes in 4G technology, media markets are fully embracing it as a way forward. Along with the BBC trialling 4G streamed television through the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Mobile Network Operator Orange has supported the Tour De France with 4G solutions to broadcast the event worldwide. Customers with compatible smartphones on a 4G tariff can share photos and videos of the event instantly. With 4G being fully supported by household name companies, we can expect the technology to grow in the coming months.
Is 4G living up to the hype?
The technology has been a little slow to get off the ground, with EE only recently facing some competition, but the figures show that customers and businesses are now starting to make the most of 4G. A predicted 146 million worldwide sales of ‘Phablets’ shows that more people than ever are using mobile devices to stream video from services such as YouTube and Netflix, engage in video conferencing through Skype and photo sharing with apps like Snapchat. Fundamentally, these are all applications that only work to their true potential on a mobile device over a 4G connection.
Those who run hospitality and temporary outdoor events are also benefitting greatly from 4G technology. In these situations, using a 4G system is cheaper to install than the fixed line or WiFi alternatives. Furthermore, 4G can also be used by resellers to provide security systems to a site, connecting IP video surveillance systems to a cellular network.
With so many developments in the works, we can’t overlook the downsides to 4G. While inner cities have the infrastructure in place, rural areas and suburbs suffer from a lack of coverage. The fact that many places will still find your mobile falling back to 3G or a slower connection, is what currently stands in the way of previous technologies becoming obsolete.
Through security flaws and coverage issues, 4G isn’t perfect, but is an excellent platform for the integration of technology and modern online activity. While there are claims already being made that London will deploy the world’s first major 5G mobile network by 2020, 4G is the necessary stepping stone to future 5G mobile deployments.
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