SMEs to benefit in the big roll-out of 4G

Martin Stiven
Martin Stiven
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THE imminent roll-out of high-speed mobile broadband in Yorkshire could transform business for ‘cash-poor and time-poor’ small firms, according to operator EE.

The mobile giant, which owns the Orange and T-Mobile brands, recently unveiled plans for 4G or fourth generation mobile services in the UK.

A long-anticipated successor to Britain’s overstretched 3G network, 4G will be launched in 16 cities by the end of the year, including Leeds, Hull and Sheffield, covering a potential 20m people.

At least five times faster than 3G, it will allow rapid internet searches, downloads, video streaming and help cater for the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablet computers.

EE, which also changed its name from Everything Everywhere, added the launch will be extended to rural locations, and could boost parts of Yorkshire which are underserved by fixed-line broadband.

“Among the businesses that I talk to there’s a pent-up demand for high-speed, high-reliability (mobile internet),” said Martin Stiven, vice president of business-to-business at EE.

“What people are finding is that 3G networks are definitely getting congested if you look at all the cellular-based data-hungry services.”

Technology firms including West Yorkshire’s Filtronic have warned of a capacity crunch as data-hungry smartphones and tablets grow in popularity.

However, EE is controversially the only operator to so far to be allowed to launch 4G in the UK.

Regulator Ofcom permitted the firm to re-use some of its existing 2G and 3G spectrum – airwaves that carry mobile signals – to offer 4G services.

That allowed it to launch ahead of a long-delayed auction of 4G spectrum next year, infuriating rivals Vodafone, 3 and O2 which must wait for the auction.

Mr Stiven said: “It’s all about our decision to get in the fast lane.

“We (the UK) have spent too long worrying about the details of the spectrum auction and constantly going backwards and forwards rather than getting on with it.”

Countries including the United States and Korea have had 4G for a number of years.

The group has already been working on upgrading backhaul and mobile phone base stations ahead of the launch, which is part of a £1.5bn investment in its network over the next three years.

It plans to have 4G coverage for 98 per cent of the population by the end of 2014. It will also use the single EE name on its 700 stores, replacing the current mix of Orange, T-Mobile and Everything Everywhere shop signs.

“This will not be a city-only roll-out,” said Mr Stiven. “There are lots of small villages in the slow lane today that we should be able to bring 4G to.”

Mr Stiven said industries from construction to haulage will benefit from being able to access high-speed internet on the move.

“Small businesses are going to be the heartbeat of the economy as we try to move out of this recession,” he said.

“They’re cash-poor and time-poor. Anything that we can do to help gives them the ability to stand out and it (4G) gives them back more time. There are more cities in Yorkshire getting 4G than any other county.”

Mr Stiven declined to comment on whether data consumption will be capped, or what price the tariffs will be. Existing Orange and T-Mobile customers will need to upgrade – at a cost – to take advantage of the high-speed network, and will also need a 4G phone.

The next generation

Fourth generation or 4G mobile internet is a high-speed network for mobile devices.

The successor to slower 2G and 3G networks, it is being developed to cater for the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablet computers.

These devices can transmit huge quantities of data every second, allowing users to play online games and download music while on the move.

Speeds will vary, but it should be at least five times faster than 3G. In theory, the maximum 4G speed is 100 megabits per second (Mbps), but the reality is likely to be 30Mbps.