4G and its current state of play in the UK

What is 4G?

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) defines 4G as the fourth-generation mobile phone communication technology standard. Currently, 4G comprises those mobile telephone networks whose data rate speed’s are faster than 3G, and can potentially meet the specifications of ITU’s IMT-Advance system finalised in 2010. The two Technologies that are deemed to fit this criteria are the LTE Advanced and WiMAX 2.0. (Walker M. 2012a)

4G compared to 3G and HSPA

The 3G system, introduced in the1980s was a generic term to cover the two prevailing standards at the time—the Universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS) and the CDMA2000 (Code division multiple access).
Later, HSPA (High-speed packet access) which is a combination of: Release 5 of the 3GPP’s (3rd Generation Partnership Project) High-speed downlink packet-access (HSDPA), and Release 6, High-speed uplink packet access (HSUPA) were upgrades to the existing Universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS) standard. (Walker M, 2012b). In 2010 a further enhanced HSPA+ standard was launched globally that featured bit-rates in the range of 168 Mbit/s (downlink) and 22Mbit/s (uplink) (Wikipedia2013)
As you can see from the comparative table below the data throughput has been steadily increasing and reaches a maximum with 4G.



figure 1 Table comparing uplink and downlink data rates

Some technical details about 4G

4G accommodates high-speed access to ultra-broadband for future innovations in smart-phone handset designs and USB wireless modems. A higher quality of gaming services, video-conferencing and 3D television is also sustained. As well as better IP telephony services made possible by OFDMA multi-carrier transmission backed up by FDE schemes and other devices based on the LTE Advanced standards, and the 802.16m or WiMAX(Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access)

However, the two main characteristics of the 4G network is that it is based on the ‘IP packet switched network protocol’ which results in lower-latency of data transmissions. It is also based on the IPv6 standard which offers a wider range of IP addresses for devices on the internet.

Another feature, pertaining particularly to mobile devices, enhanced bit rates through the deployment of ‘Smart Antenna’ utilizing the Multiple-input multiple-output communications technology. Peak data transfer rates of up to 100 Mbit/s for devices on cars, trains, buses and other vehicles, and 1Gbit/s for wireless access and inner city dwellers and business establishments are expected. Under 4G, networks network resources able to greater network traffic and to offer the same much more access to network resources right down to the cell infrastructure.

Additionally, 4G networks are highly structured to provide seamless hand-overs of mobile calls between Visitor local Registers of participating providers. It uses the bandwidths of 5 to 40 MHz band on electromagnetic spectrum which is scalable, and boasts a peak link spectral efficiency of 15 bit/sHz (downlink) and 6.75 bits/H (uplink)
Condensed from a Wikipedia entry

4G in the UK

So what is the current state of play regarding 4G in the UK? On February 20th, 2013 the Office of Communication (Ofcom) which is the United Kingdom’s authoritative body responsible for overseeing regulation and competition matters regarding telecommunications here, announced that five telecommunication companies (see figure 2) had emerged winners in the recent 4G spectrum auction. (Ofcom 2013)

According to the February 20, 2013 communiqué from the agency, the five companies surfacing as lead bidders are:

Everything, Everywhere Ltd.
Hutchinson 3G UK Ltd
Niche Spectrum Ventures Ltd
Telefonica UK
Vodafone Ltd

The release added that,“The
auction has achieved Ofcom’s purpose
Figure 2
United Kingdom, LTE share by operator,
Source: Wireless Intelligence

of promoting strong competition in the 4G Mobile market. This is expected to lead to faster mobile speeds, lower prices, greater innovation, new investment and better coverage.” Ofcom noted that the segment of the radio spectrum auction off to the highest bidders was 250 MHz of the spectrum in two bands, namely: 800MHz and the 2.6GHz. The agency expects that the entire British Isles will have access to 4G mobile services within 5 years.


In this report, I have traced the developments and reasons that led to the introduction of 4G in the UK in the shape of LTE Advance and WiMAX 2.0.
In addition, I briefly compared data rates of 4G with its predecessors 3G and HSPA and also surveyed the technical aspects of 4G. Finally, I looked at the current players in provision 4G services in the UK.

No doubt, public demand for faster mobile broadband will continue drive up the demand for faster data rates. Ultimately, consumers can expect to see more innovation in newer handsets, laptops and tablets to deliver the service as ever more larger swathes of the country cross the digital divide. (793 words)


Ofcom(2013) Ofcom announces winners of the 4G mobile auction [Online]http://media.ofcom.org.uk/2013/02/20/ofcom-announces-winners-of-the-4g-mobile-auction/ (Accessed March 30, 2013)

Walker M. (2012) T215 Communication and Information Technologies, block 2-Exploring and Enquiring page 121 Milton Keynes, Open University

Walker M. (2012) T215 Communication and Information Technologies, block 2-Exploring and Enquiring Unit 6 [Online]Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=255258 (Accessed March 29)
Wikipedia (2013) 4G [Online] Date last modified March 29, 2013, Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4g(Accessed march 30, 2013)
Wireless Intelligence(2013),United Kingdom, LTE share by operator, Q3 2014 forecast [Online] https://wirelessintelligence.com/analysis/2012/08/uk-fires-4g-starting-gun/348/ (Accessed March 26,2013)