ANALYSIS: Last weekend was the 4 year anniversary of the UK’s first 4G network launch, but it’s clear we’re only part way there
On 30 October 2012, EE switched on the UK’s first commercially available 4G network. It was a day that had been persistently delayed by legal challenges about what form the auction of LTE spectrum should take.
In the end, EE received permission from Ofcom to re-farm existing 1800MHz airwaves used for 3G services to launch an LTE service. Freshly created from the merger of Orange and T-Mobile, the UK’s largest operator was uniquely placed to do so and free the country from the shackles of slow mobile broadband.
Whether you believe the regulator granted EE an unfair advantage, the company freed the UK from the capacity and speed restraints imposed by 3G. Vodafone and O2 didn’t launch LTE until August 2013, and Three much later. With hindsight it seems ridiculous it took so long.
Read More: What next for rural mobile coverage?
4G for four years
But for some people, the challenge is not only getting LTE but any sort of signal at all. Since launch day EE and the other operators have made strides, but many services, such as 300Mbps speeds are in the most profitable areas.
The Broadband Infrastructure Group (BIG), formed of cross party MPs, has become the latest to bemoan to the persistent presence of mobile ‘not spots’. It wants mobile users in rural areas to be able to ‘roam’ across different mobile networks depending on which has the best signal, but the industry is firmly opposed to such a plan.
In the early 2000s, local news was populated about local campaigns attempting to stop the construction of mobile masts and the ‘electro-smog’ it was perceived they would emit. In 2016, there are people begging for them to be built.
Reforms to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) will make it easier for operators to build infrastructure, but public plans like the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) have largely failed to make an impact. The BIG is also unconvinced the four major operators will meet a legally binding target to extend 2G coverage to 90 percent of the UK’s landmass by 2017.
The race to 5G
However, EE does plan to reach 95 percent geographical coverage by the end of the decade – although this target is voluntary – and benefits from the £1 billion contract it won to deliver the government’s 4G enabled Emergency Services Network (ESN).
But as the explosion data consumption over the past four years has shown, mobile broadband has become an essential for people’s everyday lives. Another four years is a long time for many people to wait, often in isolated areas who could greatly benefit from better connectivity, especially in areas where fibre deployment has been lacking.
And with the Internet of Things (IoT) continuing to gain momentum, many applications will need better connectivity in hard to reach places.
The government claims the UK won’t fall behind in the race to deliver 5G like it did with 3G and 4G, but is adamant this won’t happen with taxpayers’ money. Four years on from launch day, there’s still much to do.