4G and the UK’s economic recovery

Last year O2 announced that it has begun a trial of the 4G mobile broadband technology in London. The telecommunications provider will run a 9-month pilot project, which will involve in excess of 25 base stations in heavily populated areas of the city Including Canary Wharf, Westminster and Kings Cross. Participants in the trial include several SME’s as well as members of the institute of engineering and technology.

The announcement signals the commencement of the first live trial of the technology in a British city and is intended to lay the foundations for the company’s commercial (4G) network. In order for a broadband service to be classified as 4G, it must meet the criteria of offering real-world download speeds in excess of 100mbps, while the user is mobile. The step up in performance from 3G is expected to enable individuals supporting the technology to watch HDTV over the connection, as well as place high-quality video calls.

This announcement comes in the wake of eBay’s ‘Mobile Manifesto’ report, submitted to Whitehall following consultation with retailers, mobile companies and consumer groups. The report outlines the steps eBay believes need to be taken in order for the mobile economy to grow in the UK. Making connections between its recent revenue growth and an increase in mobile commerce, the auction site claims that shopping with mobile devices like smartphones could be crucial to the recovery of the UK economy and future economic prosperity.

The manifesto urges the government to pressure Ofcom into implementing the delayed auction of the 4G spectrum, citing evidence that many shoppers already use the smartphones to shop. In addition to calling for governing bodies and network providers to improve the service to customers, the manifesto also singles out retailers for criticism, highlighting statistics which indicate that over two thirds of users still harbour reservations about the security of providing personal details over a mobile network, something for which retailers must share the responsibility.

As the online economy continues to prove resilient in the face of contraction in the retail sector overall, driven by the uptake of mobile devices, it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to nurture this revenue stream. Vice president of global fashion at eBay, Miriam Lahage said, “As smartphone and tablet ownership increases there will be even greater potential rewards for companies investing in mobile, and this is particularly true for retailers.” Commenting on the O2 initiative, she added “This O2 initiative is an important step to improving UK mobile infrastructure, and will give consumers in London a taste of what is to come after the 4G rollout.”

Once completed, the O2 project is set to move the UK a step closer to 4G, a process which has been delayed for four years due to disagreements between operators, including O2, combined with a lethargic approach to the issue from Ofcom. Since 2008 other countries around the world have made significant ground on the UK, including the US, Australia and Germany, to name but three that have already implemented 4G. In light of this it is clear to see why businesses and politicians alike are placing pressure on telecommunications companies and industry regulators to resolve an issue which is costing the country a reported £730million for each year 4G is not commercially deployed.