If you’ve ever tried to get online using a 3G connection, you’ll no doubt have encountered painfully slow speeds, as well as failed connections, more than once in a while. Since the introduction of 3G back in 2003, we’ve been waiting patiently for a faster, more reliable alternative. In the UK, we’ve seen the recent introduction of fibre broadband from Sky in April of this year.

This is great news for home broadband users, who’ll now be able to achieve top broadband speeds of up to 76Mbit/s, putting the measly 2.1Mbit/s top speeds achieved by 3G users firmly in the shade.

Those looking for a strong, fast, reliable connection on the go, however, are holding out for 4G. In the US, work has already started apace to roll out and extend 4G coverage. But in the UK, despite the proliferation of new 4G-capable devices like smartphones and iPads, we’re off to a slow start.

4G-capable-iPad

In order to make room for 4G networks, UK communications regulator Ofcom has to auction off chunks of radio spectrum. Initially the auction was due to take place at the start of the year, but following disagreements with several mobile networks, the auction’s since been delayed until the end of 2012 at the earliest.

Whether this will have any bearing on the actual roll out date of 4G in the UK is up for debate. The chunks of the radio spectrum needed to enable 4G coverage won’t actually be freed up until 2013 anyway. The bands being sold – the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies – include parts of the spectrum being used by analogue TV, so we need to wait for completion of the digital switchover to free up this bandwidth.

Regarding reasons for the auction delay, Ofcom issued a statement, explaining:

“We received a number of substantial and strongly argued responses to this consultation.”

It seems Ofcom has been having a tough time ironing out the finer details of the sale with the mobile networks. Ofcom wants to cap the amount of bandwidth that networks can buy, in order to make sure that there’s healthy competition in this sector in future, but they’ve been forced to go through another round of consultations with the networks as a result.

When 4G does begin to roll out our coverage will be lagging behind parts of the US and Japan. However, the amount of bandwidth being freed up and sold off by Ofcom is huge – roughly equivalent to three quarters of the existing mobile spectrum today – so that gives you some idea of the scale of revolution that’s going to get underway.

And in terms of speed, we’re being teased with reported potential broadband speeds of 100Mbit/s and more, with one Nokia trial achieving truly astonishing speeds of 173Mbit/s with 4G-LTE. If the delivered speeds really prove to be this good when the network is rolled out, 4G will definitely have been worth the wait.

This article was produced in association with Sky. 

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