CES 2011 – your starter guide to 4G phones (and when we'll get them in the UK)

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There’s a lot of noise coming out of CES this week about 4G phones. But what is 4G? What can it do and when is it coming to the UK?

So what’s 4G then? – It is the next generation network for mobile broadband. It comes in a couple of key flavours WiMAX and LTE (Long Term Evolution).

So why should I care about it? – Well, in theory it will mean that mobile devices from phones through to tablet PCs will be able to deliver data at speeds that even outpace your home broadband system. LTE, the main 4G format (ie the one that we’ll get in the UK) provides downlink peak rates of at least 100 Mbps, an uplink of at least 50 Mbps, though of course we all know that it will be a lot less than this in the real world. Nevertheless that is still much faster than the speeds we have with 3G. It could also signal the deathknell for home wired broadband connections as your laptop/tablet PCs will have LTE compatibility built in or added via a dongle, so you won’t need a wired connection.

WiMAX has slower speeds and is unlikely to be adopted in the UK. Nevertheless it is big-ish news in the US with both T-Mobile and Spring already boasting WiMAX networks.

Sounds great – can I have it? Well yes if you live in some US cities, in Russia, bits of Sweden and a few other places. The big story in the US is that it first LTE 4G network was launched in December by Verizon and that is why we are seeing a slew of 4G phone announcements. AT&T have also indicated that its 4G network will go live later in 2011.

So who has delivered LTE 4G phones so far?
– There are a few starting to appear notably HTC’s Thunderbolt, Samsung’s Infuse and LG’s Revolution.

What about Apple? – Well depends on who you believe. There are rumours that the 4G LTE iPhone will be announced this week, while others are saying that it won’t launch until 2012. 4G will finally be the missing piece in the iPhone jigsaw, the element that takes the phone from being a glorified touch with a bit of on the move 3G web to a truly connected go anywhere Internet handset.

Tell me some more good stuff about LTE 4G – It will be cheaper – Verizon’s 4G network subs are cheaper than its 3G ones. Some networks might even offer it for nothing – that’s what Russian network Yota has on the horizon.

So when will we get 4G in the UK? – Once again this is hard to predict. All the major networks have been trialling 4G but there’s no firm commitment from any of them. Some cynics think the UK might not go 4G until 2015. It’s likely that there will be an update about the UK and 4G at the MWC congress in February.

Ashley Norris

3 comments

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  • The UK won’t get 4G LTE /WiMAX Mobile Broadband until at least the start of 2014 because that’s the officialy timetable for Ofcom’s auction and license release process. However it will then take several years to rollout and a large investment from all the networks before everybody can recieve it, so 2015-16 is quite realistic and not just a cynical prediction. It will depend where you live.

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