UK still at least three years away from true 4G services

By Stuart Sumner
03 Dec 2010 View Comments
A Wimax base station

US communications company Verizon's claim that it will begin to offer a 4G broadband network in 38 US cities from Sunday is misleading, according to a top analyst.

Steven Hartley, principal analyst at Ovum, explained that services offered by Verizon and its rivals are not truly 4G.

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"The ITU [International Telecommunication Union] has recently come up with some specifications that it says define what is 4G. And according to those specifications, nobody currently has a true 4G network," he argued.

The specifications include advanced LTE (Long Term Evolution) standards and advanced WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) 802.16M. These are designed to offer fast uplink and downlink speeds that existing networks are currently unable to match.

Hartley added that it is not just Verizon that is falsely boasting about offering 4G technology, pointing the finger at T-Mobile too.

"[T-Mobile] has started calling its HSPA [High Speed Packet Access] network '4G' in its marketing literature. It started as 4G-like performance, and then they dropped the ‘like’. The marketing people have got hold of the discussion and they’re ripping up the rulebook," Hartley said.

However, he admitted that the point is likely to be lost on the end-user, who will primarily be interested in the increased speeds the new services will offer, whether they are truly next-generation or not.

Hartley stated that the UK is currently some way off having a similar level of wireless performance, 4G or otherwise. The problems boil down to the availability of the necessary frequencies in the UK spectrum.

"There have been lots of challenges preventing the government from releasing that part of the spectrum. In addition, there is the problem that the analogue TV spectrum still uses some of the frequencies that would be needed for 4G."

Ofcom has released a draft timetable stating that, assuming nothing goes wrong, the spectrum will be released by the beginning of 2014 at the earliest.

"Assuming the Ofcom timetable can't be brought forward, we're talking early 2014 before providers begin to offer 4G here. If you don't have the spectrum you can't launch the networks," said Hartley.

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