The little 4G logo at the top of the screen may not yet be familiar to mobile users in the UK, but it will soon become the recognised symbol for superfast mobile broadband when the service finally arrives for phone and laptop users in the UK â€“ probably some time in 2013.
The Financial Times, however, was given an advance glimpse of what the technology offers as mobile operators prepare for the first consumer trials of 4G services in London this summer. I was given one of the first publicly available 4G SIMs to test by O2 , which is running one of the trial networks.
O2 and the other mobile operators lining up to offer 4G services hope the technology will support data-intensive internet services in heavily populated areas.
Certainly, from the banks of the river Thames in heaving bank holiday crowds, the coverage was an astonishing improvement on 3G services, providing internet access and download speeds equivalent to good fixed-line home broadband.
The trial cannot be taken as truly representative of a wide rollout of 4G given the limited number of users and a local network created specifically for the purpose, but the technology behind the test should give an efficiency and speed up to six times faster than equivalent 3G applications.
Mindful of a colleague who gave glowing reviews to the first 3G device largely because of inadvertently using it next to the broadcast tower â€“ while others not so well-placed were critical of the fledgling service â€“ I began testing it on the outskirts of the stated coverage area in Waterloo. This should be where the weakest signal is available given broadcast towers centred on clusters of the West End, Paddington and Canary Wharf.
Sitting in a cafÃ© by the London Eye, BBC iPlayer was able to stream seamlessly "the area echoing to the sound of the previous night's Eastenders â€“ while I ran the morning's FT videos in another tab and checked my emails without a hitch. An internet speed test showed the speed of data in this fringe location was about 15 mbps, some three times more than what I used at home and twice the UK home broadband average. There was double these speeds elsewhere as I took my laptop into central London for lunch with the latest videos streaming over YouTube.
This showed that the bandwidth could carry multiple applications â€“ and perhaps, as importantly, multiple users â€“ without obvious problem. Being always connected to a high-speed internet line will not transform lives but it will make media consumption and online communications easier when on the go. Video calls could become as convenient as voice, and streaming easier than downloading information. And no frustrated toe-tapping while waiting to pull up maps or the morning's newspaper.
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