4G. The whats, whys and hows.

Will 4G actually make any difference to your business?

Whenever we talk about 4G, we’re always asked, ‘what does it mean and will it make any sort of difference to my business?’

The first question is easy; 4G simply means the ‘fourth generation’ of mobile communication – essentially the next step in wireless broadband that is set to improve on the old 3G signal we’re all familiar with.

The second part of the question takes a little more explanation. In our up and coming Perspective series report, 69% of business leaders say that communication needs to be faster and more responsive. The headline is that 4G will deliver both, drastically improving the speed and user experience on mobile phones, tablets, dongles and laptops that offer mobile connectivity.

How significantly? Well according to Ofcom, for the typical user, download speeds of initial 4G networks could be around 5-7 times faster than those for existing 3G networks.

This means a music album taking 20 minutes to download on a 3G phone and just over 3 minutes on 4G. This is based on existing 3G speeds being 1Mbit/s on average and 4G speed being 6Mbit/s (average of 5 and 7 times faster).

The UK tops the most connected nations

Globally, smartphones are on the rise. In May 2012 in India, mobile internet usage overtook desktop internet usage and by 2014 the same is expected globally. Fast-forward to 2017, and Cisco estimates there will be 8.6bn handheld or mobile-ready devices in use with mobile data traffic increasing 13-fold.

In the UK, there are an estimated 24m smartphone users – nearly 38 per cent of the population – with over six million Britons owning both a smartphone and a tablet. By 2016, that number is projected to rise to a staggering 41m.

To give you an idea of the scale of mobile data use; the UK downloaded approximately 275m mobile apps in February 2013 alone. According to comScore, nearly one-third of page views in the UK are now from mobiles and tablets. The average time spent accessing the internet via a mobile browser in the UK is in excess of 9.5 hours per user per month, with Google estimating that 64 per cent of smartphone users access the internet at least once a day.

The impact that 4G will have on the UK economy is predicted to be dramatic. Lobby group 4G Britain estimates that 125,000 jobs will be safeguarded or created in the UK between now and 2015 and that it will add 0.5% to UK GDP by 2020. The expected benefit of mobile retail alone is expected to reach £4.5 billion by 2016 and up to £13 billion by 2021.

What’s the reality of 4G for business?

So, 4G is important to Britain. But what does it really mean for your businesses?

1.  It will enable you to download and view large files while out of the office by accessing your data quicker.

The new 4G network is built for data in a way 3G never was. And it’s down to the speed improvements that 4G brings.

Companies using mobile internet and data apps like Dropbox will see huge improvements. Users will be now able upload or share documents without risk of clogging up email accounts or view video with faster connection.

2.  Employees will become more connected and empowered.

4G delivers a faster and more user-friendly mobile experience, with improved security, communication and collaboration out of the office. Emails will take less time to download and less time is spent buffering when you want to watch a video presentation.

The improvement in speed and user experience is remarkable.

3.  4G makes overall mobile working a better experience.  Improved productivity from working at office speeds while out of the office.

A recent survey by Randstad revealed that 18% of British workers feel that the development of smartphones and tablets has made it easier for them to work while they travel, should they want or need to.

Mark Bull, UK CEO of Randstad, said: “Time is the vital currency of commuting: how much of it you spend—and how you spend it—reveals a great deal about how much you think it is worth”. 4G Britain meanwhile estimate that 37m work hours will be saved each year thanks to 4G. Their research shows that 86% of UK business leaders say that 4G will increase their productivity, while 93% said it was vital to Britain’s future.

4.  It will make access to data more secure.

The enhanced security features such as strong mutual authentication and user identity confidentiality on 4G offers a more secure experience than the existing 3G or WiFi – removing one of the greatest barriers to flexible working – data security and privacy.

It will negate the need to save sensitive documents locally – 4G speeds allow instant, secure access to centrally saved information.

5.  Faster, informed decisions with real-time video conferencing, remote desktop sharing and employee collaboration become instant.

What 4G won’t do is affect the quality of standard calls, as it currently relates just to data. However, what it will enable is a whole new opportunity for businesses to connect and collaborate through real-time HD video calling. The new 4G capacity means that businesses no longer need to tolerate poor quality visual and audio conferencing – instead you will now be able to opt for a higher quality HD conference call on services like Skype or Apple’s Facetime.

To the same extent you won’t see an average text message arriving quicker, but apps that use data to send messages, like Whatsapp, Lync, Dropbox and Facebook Messenger, will all become significantly quicker and more reliable.

4G is coming at just the right time

We’re experiencing unprecedented change in the economy – faster, wider reaching and harder hitting change than we’ve seen for a generation. For most it has been painful. But at the same time it’s an opportunity to gain ground over competitors, and emerge stronger by embracing technologies like 4G.

What 4G offers is a faster, better communications experience to help your employees work on the move and allow your business to compete by becoming more efficient – even in tough economic times. But while 4G is a technological revolution, businesses must realise that the most important innovations will not come through tangible technologies, but through the evolution of their working practices which 4G enables.

For any references to speed in this article: Speed will vary significantly and will be dependent on coverage and demand.