4G Networks To Offer 200 Percent Capacity Boost

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4G technology will improve the spectrum efficiency of mobile networks, according to new research from Ofcom

Fourth generation mobile technology will deliver more than three times the capacity of existing 3G technologies, using the same amount of spectrum; but greater use of smaller cells such as microcells and femtocells will be needed to meet demand in specific areas, according to new research conducted by Real Wireless on behalf of Ofcom .

The research looked at a number of 4G technologies including Long Term Evolution (LTE) and later generations of LTE that are still in development, such as LTE Advanced. It also considered emerging and later generations of WiMax. It was found that initial deployments of 4G will deliver a 1.2 times improvement over high-end 3G technologies, and a 3.3 percent improvement compared with more typical 3G devices on the market today.

“4G mobile technologies will be able to send more information than 3G for a given amount of spectrum. This increased efficiency means that 4G networks will be able to support increased data rates and more users,” said Dr Stephen Unger, chief technology officer at Ofcom.

“The research that we commissioned indicates that early 4G mobile networks with standard configurations will be 3.3 times (230 percent) more spectrally efficient than today’s standard 3G networks. To put this in context, a user on an early 4G network will be able to download a video in around a third of the time it takes today on a 3G network.”

4G spectrum auction

Ofcom is currently gearing up for the long-awaited auction of spectrum around 800MHz and 2.6GHz, due to take place in the first quarter of 2012. The auction will mark the advent of 4G technology in the UK, and is expected to fuel an explosion of next-generation services and applications.

Ofcom has set strict maximum and minimum limits to the amount of spectrum which can be bought by any one operator, in an attempt to maintain competition in the market and allay fears that the auction could squeeze out smaller players.

This increased spectrum capacity is essential in meeting the UK’s rapid increase in mobile traffic, fuelled by the growth of smartphones and mobile broadband data services such as video streaming, email, messenger services, mapping services and social networking.

“The auction is not only critical to the future of the UK mobile telecommunications market but it is also of significant importance to the wider economy,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards back in March. “It will support a wide range of data services that are fast becoming essential features of the modern world.”

The research by Real Wireless predicts that the capacity of 4G networks will grow by approximately 5.5 times (450 percent) between 2010 and 2020, as spectrum efficiency improves. However, the report warns that improvements in network topology will also be required to achieve these capacity gains.

Small cells boost capacity

Smaller cells, such as microcells and femtocells, are already being built into the 4G standards, in order to boost capacity in areas where demand is high, including cafes and waiting areas.

“While the topology of cellular networks has traditionally been relatively fixed around macrocells with some microcells in high demand areas, support for smaller cells and heterogeneous networks has been built into 4G networks from an early stage,” stated the report. “We anticipate that topology will be a much more important factor in capacity for future networks than it traditionally has been in 3G networks.”

Femtocells are already being used to beef up parts of the 3G network in areas of high usage, and have also been touted as a way to solve the problem of 3G ‘not-spots’. Earlier this year, femtocell maker Picochip unveiled its vision for putting an entire 3G cellular basestation on a USB dongle at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.