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Why WiFi Must Bridge the Gap to 4G

Tying in with this is analyst Gartner which claims global mobile data connections will increase 11 per cent from 5m to 5.6m this year. Global revenue from mobile data will jump 22.5 per cent to $314.7 ”billion”. “What carriers currently need are innovative ways to increase data revenue while finding smart solutions to manage a growing demand in data,” said Gartner research director Sylvain Fabre. “Ultimately, it will be the consumer who chooses the content he or she wants to use, and carriers need to ensure that the quality of experience is good. A substandard user experience may lead to higher churn.”

In theory Virgin’s WiFi strategy shouldn’t get a look in. After all carriers have a solution: Long Term Evolution. LTE is a 3.9G technology which rockets base station bandwidth from 7.2Mbit to an initial 160Mbit. A simple software update can increase this to 300Mbit. It is so fast LTE is currently being mis-marketed as 4G… but not yet in the UK. Yes while LTE is a real world technology already deployed in numerous countries and mobile data performance is dictated by bandwidth congestion, one of the world’s most densely populated countries is lagging vastly behind.
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In fact LTE isn’t just unavailable in the UK, the licences have not been sold to carriers and even the method by which they will be sold hasn’t been decided. In reality Brits are likely to wait 2-5 years for widespread LTE and in the meantime carriers have no way of radically improving their services to satisfy the needs of an ever larger and more demanding smartphone and laptop user base – and that is without touching upon the tablet phenomenon.

Irony is once wide eyed belief in 3G killed off a far more elegant solution than Virgin’s WiFi hotspots, it effectively ended mass take up of WiMAX. Introduced in the mid 2000s by Intel, WiMAX is a wide band WiFi standard which can cover entire cities in one fell swoop. Its elegance has found a niche in developing countries with minimal infrastructure, but it never caught on properly in major urban centres. 3G was deemed the better solution, but only if its evolution was managed properly.
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The absurdity that WiMAX’s time may have passed only for WiFi hotspots to pick up the slack of its supposed killer won’t be lost on Intel. It also shouldn’t be lost on us that the idea of free city wide WiFi is only so appealing because the data packs we have already paid for on our mobile devices can at times feel useless. As such Virgin Media’s vision for a bridging solution is far more than a “punt”, even if expanding it city by city will be impractical.

“It is a real opportunity if you think about the gap that is occurring between what the consumer needs outside the home and what they can get on 3G,” concluded Berkett in more telling language. He also said trials were already underway in Kent.

We can only hope this bridge won’t need to be travelled for too long…

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