4G to deliver big capacity gains says Ofcom

Next generation mobile technology will deliver more than 200% of the capacity of existing 3G technologies while using the same amount of spectrum, rising to 450% by 2020, according to the latest research.

New research from UK regulator, Ofcom, shows that spectrum (airwaves that carry information between customers’ mobile handsets and the internet) does not need to be increased to get a significant capacity boost from 3G to 4G.

Ofcom stated this increased capacity is essential to meet the UK’s rapid increase in mobile traffic, fuelled by the growth of smartphones and mobile broadband data services, such as video streaming, email, messenger services, mapping services and social networking.

4G mobile technologies will be rolled out in the UK from 2013 and are set to deliver significantly faster mobile broadband services, approaching today’s ADSL home broadband speeds. This will be achieved in part thanks to 4G using spectrum more efficiently.

Dr Stephen Unger, chief technology officer at Ofcom, said: “4G mobile technologies will be able to send more information than 3G, for a given amount of spectrum. This increased efficiency means that 4G networks will be able to support increased data rates and more users.

“The research that we commissioned indicates that early 4G mobile networks with standard configurations will be 3.3 times (230%) more spectrally efficient than today’s standard 3G networks. To put this in context, a user on an early 4G network will be able to download a video in around a third of the time it takes today on a 3G network. It is anticipated that this efficiency will increase to approximately 5.5 times (450%) by 2020.”

However, Ofcom noted that its research, when compared to analyst predictions for the rise of data traffic, shows that the growth in spectrum efficiency likely to be realised by technology improvements alone is only enough to match the growth in traffic demand for the lowest traffic forecast (18.5% CAGR for spectrum efficiency and 17% for the lowest demand forecast for 2010-2020). The highest traffic forecast in 2020 is around 15 times higher than this.