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4G: What is it and how will it change things?

4G is finally here, arriving in the UK and Ireland after a few years in regulatory limbo. But what is this new technology and what changes can you expect it to cause within the business world.

4G is the name given to the fourth generation of mobile network coverage and as you might imagine, it follows on from the 3G platforms that we have been using for the last decade.

4G Capabilities

Like 3G before it, 4G is designed to provide high speed data access to mobile users across a wide area, effectively allowing them to get online from their smartphones. What this means is that the average worker is less constrained by his office space; he or she can afford to spend more time out of the office and still maintain a high level of productivity.

The main difference here is that 4G offers considerably faster speeds than were available using the last generation of mobile networks.

It is always sensible to take promised data speeds with a pinch of salt, because the real world performance of wireless networks always varies. For example, 3G networks often boasted between 7 and 14Mbps download speeds, while in reality, the average achieved by a typical user would be closer to 2-3Mbps.

Consequently, network providers are being cagey about revealing how fast 4G networks really are, particularly in this early phase. Theoretically, they should eventually be able to offer speed of 100Mbps and beyond, but for the time being, you can expect to enjoy speeds five times faster than 3G.

On a good day, a 4G connection should give you 15-20Mbps download speeds, which is much higher than the UK’s fixed line broadband average of 9Mbps. Coverage is limited to just a few major cities at the moment and only one of the four biggest providers has launched 4G, but the next few years should see this technology blossom.

4G in Practice

So on paper 4G looks enticing, but what will all these facts and figures actually mean for the end user and will your working day change that dramatically if you choose to use a 4G phone rather than a 3G model?

With much faster connectivity on tap, all sorts of new or enhanced services will be accessible from a portable device.

Video streaming, for example, will be greatly improved, allowing users to enjoy full HD clips without having to hang around while the whole thing buffers.

In turn, activities such as video conference calling and mobile VoIP will be much slicker and quicker on a 4G handset. You can use these over 3G, but in general, the download speeds are so slow that most people do not bother.

This is good news for those who want to be productive while they are out and about, with the business benefits of 4G including faster file transfer speeds and better access to discrete instant messaging.

In addition, it will be possible to gain more stable access to cloud-based services over a 4G connection, which will make mobile devices far more flexible and powerful by association.

Of course, all this can be something of a double-edged sword. With a greater ability to work outside of the office, some may find it too tempting to allow work to infringe on those all too precious wind down hours. Fortunately, 4G has got you covered on the entertainment side of things.

Multiplayer online gaming will spring to life over 4G, with graphically intensive titles operating smoothly and without lag. Social networking will be enhanced, allowing for a better degree of communication across the board.

It is no wonder that 4G advocates have been singing the praises of this technology for some time. Now the providers need to get around to making it affordable and widely available.

Lloyd is currently writing on behalf of SO Switch.