Vilicom’s Seán Keating looks at the significance of the leap from 3G to 4G – and the further gains to be made from 5G
It’s easy to forget just how monumental the jump from 3G to 4G really was.
Yes, 3G enabled many of us to enjoy a light spot of wireless browsing and streaming for the first time, but had we tried to do anything more demanding – the technology would’ve held us back.
What’s more, data was expensive and bottlenecked by limited bandwidth and usage plans. While we have no qualms about streaming an albums’ worth of music at 320kbps in 2020, doing so in the 3G era would’ve pushed hard into your monthly limit.
So, when 4G began its global rollout in 2009, it marked the start of a new era of consumer and business connectivity that would change how many of us work, live and play. But what did 4G do for us really? Let’s look back.
Jobs, growth, innovation
The core benefits of 4G are easy to quantify – it’s faster than 3G and offers lower latency with more bandwidth. But it’s how we made use of these benefits that had such a profound impact on our lives and economy. Did you know:
- 4G saved a lot of money
4G successfully drove down the cost of data dramatically. Upon the UK launch of 4G in 2012, a SIM-only plan on EE with 1GB data would cost you £26 a month – by 2019, 1GB costed a UK average of £5.10. The cheapest nation for 4G? India, where 1GB will cost you an average of $0.26.
- 4G enabled job creation
The wireless industry created millions of new jobs across the last decade. That includes direct industry positions, those working in the on-demand economy – like mobile app creators – and traditional sectors now reliant on wireless connectivity like retail, builders, and contractors. By 2019, 1 in 6 jobs in the US depended on the wireless industry – that’s 20.4 million jobs.
- 4G drove GDP growth
By 2019, the US wireless industry was projected to grow to $441.8 billion – a projected growth of 126%. But this data was based on historical 3G trends way back in 2011, so what really happened? 4G came and contributed $690.5 billion by 2019 – marking 10% of the overall increase in US GDP for the decade. The economic impact is undeniable, but more fundamental is how 4G is paving the way for a smarter, more connected future built on digital transformation and innovation. So, as 4G passes the baton to 5G, let’s reflect on some of the radical use cases enabled by 4G this past decade, and how 5G will take them to the next level. Who stands to gain?
As great as it is for consumers to access content on their mobile devices lag-free, the future of wireless connectivity is set to have a far greater impact on business and industry.
With the emergence of 4G, sectors like construction, public services, energy, retail and manufacturing now have the network foundation they need to transform services and operations through always-on digital connectivity – anytime, anywhere.
For example, innovations like remote private 4G networking are aiding the construction, development, and deployment of what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm – Ørsted’s Hornsea Two.
Once construction has completed, this remote network will remain to provide essential communications for operational and maintenance needs, helping aid ‘the seamless connection of hundreds of thousands of families to a sustainable source of energy’.
In the public sector, Transport for London has tendered a contract to provide a private 4G network across the London Underground to meet rising demand from travellers.
While its existing Wi-Fi service will stay live, a private 4G network can hugely benefit field agents, rail workers and contractors. Better connectivity will help these workers get the robust, high-speed access to remote productivity apps and cutting edge smart devices like augmented reality (AR) tools.
The road to 5G
With 5G, use cases like this can be taken even further, due in no small part to the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT). By tapping into the data captured and shared by smart devices, sensors and objects, businesses can unlock new insights to help improve operational efficiency; deliver smarter, more personalised services; and even predict maintenance issues before they happen. And that’s only the tip of the IoT iceberg.
With 5G and IoT, use cases like automotive vehicles, smart cities and remote telehealth have the potential to transform our lives as we know it.
Where next for wireless
At Vilicom, we’re already seeing incredible demand for remote and offshore wireless network solutions and enterprise-grade wireless connectivity.
We’re particularly excited by vRAN (virtual Radio Access Network), and its potential to transform how businesses deploy 5G and manage their network. vRAN virtualises previously hardware-driven network functions for improved flexibility, delivering the network over the cloud for simpler management and easier deployment of new services and enhancements. But that’s not all we’re excited about.
With the likes of Industry 4.0 transforming manufacturing by unlocking new operational insights from previously inaccessible data sources – the potential for other industries is boundless.
Seán Keating is CEO of Vilicom, a mobile engineering firm providing wireless and IoT connectivity and consultancy to businesses.