This week, Ofcom allowed Everything Everywhere, the owner of the Orange and T-Mobile networks, to use its existing bandwidth to launch fourth-generation (4G) mobile services. The group is expected to use a new brand name to launch the service, at a considerable cost – and the new network could be live as early as 11th September 2012.
Ofcom’s decision was met with opposition from the other networks, who clearly believe that 4G is a big deal. Speculation that 4G will interfere with the current Freeview signal is not relevant to this week’s decision, as Everything Everywhere will be using its existing 3G network for the new service.
For consumers, 4G mobile internet will allow users to download films in 10-15 minutes direct to their mobile or tablet device. It’s faster than many home broadband connections. For gamers, music and movie downloaders it’s a dream come true.
There will be a government-run auction later this year whereby the other UK mobile network providers will bid for a slice of the 4G spectrum, with firms expected to start rolling out 4G services to consumers in late 2013. But because Everything Everywhere already has sufficient space on its existing 3G spectrum, Ofcom has allowed it to launch 4G ahead of its rivals.
Punters (or early adopters as we will no doubt be calling them in a few months’ time) will need to buy new 4G-compatable phones. Many journalists are speculating that the Everything Everywhere launch date coincides with the rumoured iPhone5. But in the US, HTC, Nokia, Samsung, Blackberry and LG all offer 4G mobile phones, so handsets from a number of manufacturers could be available in time for Christmas.
It’s not clear yet what the 4G charging model will be – but it is likely that the new technology will be charged at a premium to 3G. Mobile phone networks usually charge a premium for data (unlike fixed-line broadband providers) but 4G’s consumer benefit is the ability to stream and download vast quantities of data, fast. So packaging plans, and handset deals will be crucial to Everything Everywhere’s potential ‘first mover’ advantage.
For advertisers, 4G will lead to more dual- (and multi-) screening; more time spent online and, of course, more opportunities for fast interactivity. The fact that a mobile network has beaten the traditional broadcasters and fixed-line broadband providers to the party speaks volumes about the potential of mobile technology.