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May 13, 2011

Ofcom: 4G will deliver triple capacity gains over 3G

by Darren Allan

Which is better… 3G or 4G? Not a difficult question to answer, of course, but how much “better” is the latter?

Ofcom has just published a piece of research which claims that the next-gen mobile network will offer more than 200% of the capacity current 3G technology boasts, using the same amount of spectrum.

As Ofcom points out, that’s going to be essential when it comes to making room for the swiftly increasing amount of smartphones in the UK, whose owners are taking on intensive tasks such as video streaming.

To put a precise number on the benefits, Ofcom reckons early 4G networks will be 3.3 times more “spectrally efficient” than today’s 3G.

Dr Stephen Unger, Chief Technology Officer at Ofcom, commented: “4G mobile technologies will be able to send more information than 3G, for a given amount of spectrum. This increased efficiency means that 4G networks will be able to support increased data rates and more users.”

“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. It is anticipated that this efficiency will increase to approximately 5.5 times (450%) by 2020.”

How were these figures arrived at? Ofcom undertook an analysis of current theoretical predictions and actual trials, considering a number of 4G technologies including LTE and later generations of LTE still under development (such as LTE Advanced), and also WiMAX (super-wi-fi with a range of many kilometres).

While all these statistics might sound quite comforting for the future of mobile broadband in the UK, Ofcom notes that these gains won’t be sufficient to meet the expected growth in mobile data usage.

More spectrum is needed, and indeed will be auctioned off next year (in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands), but just as importantly, mobile networks will need to intelligently deploy that spectrum.

Ofcom anticipates the increased use of small cells to meet extensive demand in highly populated areas.

4G networks should start to go live in the UK come 2013, although it probably won’t be until later in the year that they’ll actually be available to consumers.

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