Ofcom Delay on 4G Decision

17:40 Friday 13th July 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The Government is coming under increasing pressure to make a decision on the future of the next generation of mobile technology, 4G. It’s been claimed that it’s introduction could create 125,000 jobs, stimulate the economy by over £5.5 billion, and contribute half a per cent to national GDP by the end of the decade. But still, 10% of the Uk population doesn’t even receive any type of fast broadband at all, many of them, of course, in rural Cambridgeshire. Well earlier, Uk tech. journalist Michael Brook joined me to explain more. (TAPE)
MICHAEL BROOK: You’ve heard of 3G no doubt, and that is the third generation of mobile networks. 4G is the fourth generation, which basically, simply put, is a much faster data network than 3G. It allows you to send data about 20x faster than 3G networks. It means that if you were to download an album, it would take you about 60 seconds, as opposed to 7 minutes. If you were to download a full film, rather than it taking over an hour, it would take about 10 minutes. So it’s much much faster data essentially across mobile.
CHRIS MANN: And how is it possible?
MICHAEL BROOK: It’s made possible by the frequency band that’s available for 4G is much much larger and allows more data across it. At the moment the issue is that the bandwidth that you need for 4G is being held onto by the Government. The Government own it. They’re auctioning it off via Ofcom at the tail end of the year. But at the moment we are behind about 40 other countries in the world. The US we’re behind. We’re behind France, Germany, parts of Asia. Lots of places have got 4G right now, and we are looking probably, unless Ofcom really really moves quickly, the tail end of next year, to the middle of next year, before we get 4G. Now Everything Everywhere, who are the parent company of Orange and T-Mobile, those two networks, have said that actually we can launch right now, if Ofcom give is the green light to use our current existing networks to push out 4G, because they’ve figured out a way of broadening that data, and be able to use it over their own networks. But Ofcom now are in a situation where, if they say yes to Orange and T-Mobile to do it before the end of the year, the other networks are going to get rather upset with them. So right now it’s in the Government’s hands as to whether we can get it quickly or whether we’re going to have to wait until next year.
CHRIS MANN: It’s all very frustrating, and even more so here, in Cambridgeshire Michael, because this is the hub of electronics and IT in the Uk. As you probably know, it’s the absolute powerhouse of all the technology and the development that’s happening in British IT. And yet you can travel just a few miles from Cambridge to some villages where they can barely get one megabyte. It’s extraordinary.
MICHAEL BROOK: Yes. That’s another issue, or another benefit I should say of 4G, which is that there are rural areas that at the moment you can’t get decent broadband, or sometimes any broadband whatsoever. 4G will allow roughly 95% coverage of the Uk. And those speeds are going to be broadband-style speeds. So places that at the moment are struggling, you have to lay fibre-optic cable and it’s very very expensive, it will easily be delivered over the air to mobile devices. So you’ll be able to get your broadband that way. So that’s a real tangible benefit. And again, we are way behind other countries.
CHRIS MANN: But how can this be? Because here we are, in a recession. The Government said it’s doing everything in terms of technology and training to try and help people get into jobs, and help British business get ahead, and surely 4G must rank right up there as one of the important things that we have to do.
MICHAEL BROOK: Yes, absolutely. 80% of small businesses have said we want 4G now. Obviously there are benefits to the economy. It’s said that it will generate around £5.5 billion worth of investment, create 125,000 jobs, add half a per cent to the GDP of the Uk by the end of the decade. So there are a ton of benefits economically, as well as the business benefits and the consumer benefits, and the benefits to people who right now struggle to get decent a internet connection. So it’s frustrating, and it really is in the Government’s hands. They own the spectrum. They are responsible for releasing the spectrum. And it’s them that’s dragging their heels.
CHRIS MANN: Is the reason they’re dragging their heels because they want to try and make more money out of it?
MICHAEL BROOK: It’ a difficult one, that. I think to a certain extent it’s the way that in this country mobile networks are regulated. So in this instance they’re responsible for releasing that for the auctioning off, and I think part of the problem now is whereas we’ve got one group of networks in Everything Everywhere saying, we can launch right now. And the other networks saying, hang on a second. That gives you a huge competitive advantage. We don’t want that to happen, and lobbying Ofcom to say no to that. Which is holding the whole thing up. So there’s a lot of infighting going on at the moment, whereas obviously as a technology journalist, I want to see us get the latest handsets, the latest technology. And I want to see 4G rolling out this year. But potentially it could be the tail end of next year if this goes on.
CHRIS MANN: Yes. So I was going to ask, realistically, when can people expect to have 4G on their phones?
MICHAEL BROOK: Well, again, it depends on Ofcom. If they say yes to Orange and T-Mobile’s suggestion, then at the tail end of this year they’ve said they can get things up and running. If not, then the infrastructure and everything else that needs to be put in place for new 4G networks is likely to take us to the middle of to the end of next year. So by that time, if you consider that by May of this year there were 34 countries with it, and now there’s 40, you can see just how far behind we’ll be. So it really is in the hands of the Government. And obviously we want to push forward with it, because we want to get that out there. So it’s very very frustrating.
CHRIS MANN: And Michael, how long before 5G?
MICHAEL BROOK: I have no idea. (LAUGHS) Is the honest answer. It’s one of those things. I think 4G will have a fairly long life in terms of data speeds. But 3G when it came out was comparable-ish to broadband speeds. Now broadband has moved on so much that 4G’s the next thing. So as broadband speeds keep going higher up, and the technology develops, it’s likely that a 5G will come out. But I think the key is that you buy into these things, or you don’t buy into these things. You get a 4G handset or you don’t get a 4G handset. You buy that contract. It’s not a thing that’s going to be plonked on your lap, and you’re going to be charged an extra £10 a month. If you don’t want it, it’s something that you can buy into initially and gradually they’ll phase out 3G.
CHRIS MANN: Michael Brook, an expert Uk tech. journalist.