Is 4G the answer?

In a bid to get faster broadband to everyone – or at least match the 2Mbits/sec universal service commitment – the Government has admitted it will lump mobile connectivity together with fixed-line access to meet its targets.

It’s a quick fix, assuming the delayed 4G auctions ever take place, but data download limitations could dramatically reduce the connections’ usefulness.

Although recent trials in Cornwall by Everything Everywhere and BT showed impressive average speeds of 6Mbits/sec, which rival the ADSL average, how well the network would scale up with more users remains to be seen.

More importantly, critics are concerned that 4G can’t be used in the same way as a fixed-line connection, leaving anyone forced by geography into a mobile connection at a disadvantage.

James Firth, CEO of think-tank Open Digital, has raised concerns that mobile providers could block high-bandwidth services or traffic that might eat into voicecall revenues, such as Skype.

“There’s a legitimate concern because people don’t want to be forced to use a service, and then be forced to use a supplementary VPN to be able to watch iPlayer,” he says.

There are also serious cost concerns that could preclude using data-hungry services such as streaming video.

“4G is talked about like it has much more bandwidth, but that will change when everyone switches over,” says Andrew Ferguson, a network expert at thinkbroadband.com. “You’re going to have the same problems, and they’re charging sometimes £1 a megabyte, so you’ve got a long, long way before it becomes affordable for home usage.”

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