Ofcom: 4G might not solve UK data issues

Ofcom looks into the murky world of 4G
Ofcom looks into the murky world of 4G

Ofcom has published its report into 4G into the UK, looking into the real-time effect the next-gen tech will have on data users.

The study aims to "understand the realistic capacity improvements of 4G relative to 3G" and has found that despite the data speed and traffic management improvements, the inevitable explosion in smartphone, dongle and tablet usage might mean networks will still struggle to keep up.

Ofcom is keen to point out that while by 2020 we can expect speeds of nearly 3Gbps, the ability to get anything like those speeds out to users will rely largely on networks solving the issue of concentrated amounts of data use, such as at train stations or in office blocks.

Getting ready for 4G

"Our results show that 4G gains in cell spectrum efficiency will not be enough to keep pace with demand growth and that topology will gain increasing importance in 4G network capacity," noted the report.

It seems networks will be relying on smaller base stations and femtocells (those that use fixed line broadband to provide a localised signal, such as seen on Vodafone's Sure Signal) in ensuring consumers can maintain data signal in dense areas.

"Topology improvements (creating new alternatives to distributing the signal) in 4G should mitigate against demand peaks - dense urban macrocell deployments are still anticipated to be the bottleneck for dimensioning spectrum"

However, should the issues be sorted we can expect to see a five times improvement in network efficiency (meaning more data can be pumped over the same area and nearly 150 times faster network speeds in some areas in just eight years - not bad for a technology that many thought had peaked when Snake first emerged.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.