4G networks will be faster but could still face capacity problems

4G will deliver more than 200% capacity over 3G Ofcom says

The next generation of mobile technology will deliver more than 200 per cent of the capacity of existing 3G technologies.

Ofcom's research says that this can be achieved by using the same amount of spectrum i.e. the airwaves that carry information between customers’ mobile handsets and the internet.

"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 per cent) more spectrally efficient than today’s standard 3G networks." 

Increased capacity is vital for 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.

4G mobile technologies will be rolled out in the UK from 2013 and are set to deliver significantly faster mobile broadband services – approaching today’s ADSL home broadband speeds.

This will be achieved in part thanks to 4G using spectrum more efficiently.

"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 and it is anticipated that this efficiency will increase to approximately 5.5 times (450 per cent) by 2020,” Dr Unger said.

Ofcom conducted the research to understand the likely spectrum efficiency improvements gained from 4G technologies, based on a review and analysis of theoretical predictions and real-world trials in realistic deployments.

A number of 4G technologies were considered including Long Term Evolution (LTE) and later generations of LTE, which are still in development, such as LTE Advanced. 

Emerging and later generations of WiMAX, a wireless technology that is similar to Wi-Fi but with a longer range covering many kilometres, were also looked at.

However the research revealed that the capacity gain from the increased spectral efficiency of 4G technologies will not on its own be enough to meet the expected growth in demand for mobile data. 

As well as using existing spectrum more efficiently, more spectrum itself is also needed, some of which will be gained from the auction of new spectrum at 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz in 2012.

This will be the largest ever single auction of additional spectrum for mobile services in the UK, equivalent to three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today.

Mobile networks will also need to be designed intelligently to ensure the best use of spectrum and the research anticipates a greater use of small cells to meet demand in specific areas.

Further information:

Read more about Ofcom's research on 4G

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