It has been too long coming. But with O2 and Vodafone now joining rival EE in the provision of next-generation mobile services, Britain’s internet habits are about to change out of all recognition.
Never mind such technicalities as spectrum allocation and peak bit-rates. What the nationwide availability of so-called 4G mobile networks will mean is simple enough. Just as the advent of broadband changed the home internet experience, 4G – at as much as five times current speeds – will do the same for the mobile.
Super-fast internet on the move means an end to the distinction between at home, in the office, and out and about. It means TV on the train, cloud computing in the park, gaming on the bus. And that is just the beginning. As high-speed mobile data becomes ubiquitous, it will spawn entirely new services – just as broadband did.
Despite all the promise, roll-out has been slowed by regulatory torpor, industry in-fighting and even, perhaps, company strategies aimed at pushing up prices. But with EE’s 4G in 100 towns, O2 and Vodafone set to have 13 cities covered by the end of the year, and Three committed to a launch before Christmas, there is progress at last.
If the experiences of trailblazers such as South Korea are anything to go by, mobile internet use is about to quadruple. There might be as much as a 1 per cent boost to GDP. Even with the networks in place, though, we are not there yet. Not only will it take time for smartphones, tablets and the like to catch up; consumers may also take time to be convinced. But we are on the brink of a technical revolution, nevertheless, and it will change our world.