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When Will True 4G LTE Advanced Mobile Broadband Arrive in the UK

Thursday, Apr 4th, 2013 (1:01 am) - Score 3,275

It’s not 4G, it’s still 3G. The current generation of 4G (LTE) based superfast Mobile Broadband technology, which is presently being rolled out by operators in the United Kingdom, is technically still a 3G service because its internet speeds are too slow for it to be considered true 4G by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

According to the ITU, specifically its radio communication division (ITU-R), neither first generation WiMAX nor LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology qualify as a true 4th Generation (4G) service and thus UK mobile operators should in theory continue referring to them as 3G (i.e. their performance falls within the older IMT-2000 standard).

In order to qualify as a true 4G service, cellular mobile operators would need to support target peak data speeds of up to approximately 100Mbps (Megabits per second) in a high mobility multi-user environment (e.g. mobile phones) and up to 1000Mbps (1Gbps) in a low mobility one (e.g. local wireless access).

As a result the ITU stated in 2010 that only the future LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) and WiMAX2 (802.16m / WirelessMAN-Advanced) standards could actually qualify to be called 4G under the latest IMT-Advanced specification.

mobile broadband standards under IMT-Advanced

As usual the marketing departments at various mobile operators around the UK, and for that matter the world, took absolutely no notice of the IMT-Advanced specification. Indeed some, such as Three UK, have at times described even older 3G technologies as both 4G and, perhaps more controversially, “ultrafast” (here). Little wonder that consumers get confused.

In fairness the ITU does admit that its IMT-Advanced data rates are merely targets for research and investigation that “should not be taken as the definitive requirements for systems beyond IMT-2000“. Similarly some firms (Anite) have already demonstrated LTE-Advanced technology that offers peak data rates of around 3Gbps. But this does beg the question, when will the big mobile phone operators launch true 4G (LTE-Advanced) in the UK?

A Spokesperson for O2 told ISPreview.co.uk:

We’re focussed on delivering the benefits of 4G/LTE at the moment and we’ve no timescales of LTE-Advanced.”

A Spokesperson for EE added:

The features of LTE-Advanced are absolutely on our roadmap to deploy for our 4G network as we continue to offer the fastest, most efficient 4G service and make optimum use of our broad spectrum portfolio. We’re first to market but also want to remain one step ahead. EE engineers are rapidly progressing plans for further advancing our service, and we’ll be making upgrades to our network throughout 2013.”

It’s important to stress that LTE-A, despite being around for a few years in specification form, has only very recently been developed and scaled down enough to fit into both small cell solutions and to act as modems in modern Smartphones and Tablet computers. Similarly early LTE-A kit is usually only capable of LTE Category 4 speeds (i.e. around 150Mbps).

On the other hand consumers should not be expecting speeds of 150Mbps or more from LTE-A, at least not for a few more years. Capacity has to be shared between many end-users and mobile data is a surprisingly expensive business, which means that mobile will still be playing catch-up with fixed line broadband ISPs for awhile yet (except in some locations where fixed line is worse than mobile).

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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