While many were flocking to the MWC to get a glimpse of the latest consumer tech, much of the big news was around the technologies driving the networks and infrastructure. With mobile devices, and in particular web-enabled smartphones, being adopted at a massive rate (a spotlight of the show was the emerging smartphone market in India), smartphones are becoming more established as a primary route for accessing content. The mobile industry is ready and hungry to adopt new network technologies that will be able to supply the greater speed and bandwidth that is already in demand.
The next generation of mobile communication standards is referred to as 4G. This represents a step up in the amount of data bandwidth possible via the mobile networks. But the step to provide this service to users is not simple, there are different ways that the technology can be implemented (4G is a classification based on a data transfer rate, it does not specify the means of providing it), and there are many network operators in competition. Mobile networks, radio, WiFi and other kinds of wireless networks all use radio transmission, so now there is a limit to the available frequency bands that can be used to transmit information – so any new standards brought in by operators have to find a way to fit in to what is available.
LTE, the primary technology that will be driving future 4G networks, has already been deployed in some places for several years – Sweden and Norway have had LTE networks since 2009, as has the USA, but these are not yet considered to be performing at 4G level. There were a number of announcements at the conference around 4G and LTE, such as the arrival of the first LTE networks to the UK, and demonstrations showcasing new ‘small-cell’ base stations. These smaller transmitters mean that transmitter can be more easily installed to allow greater coverage by placing them closer to where people are going to be. It will still be some time before things settle down, but an infrastructure for 4G networks is starting to look like a reality.
Whilst the mobile networks are struggling to roll out the new technology, another approach is taking hold. The aim is to increase bandwidth available to smartphone users by seamlessly connecting to WiFi hotspots when they are available. The idea is likened to cellular ‘roaming’. WiFi is typically very short range, but can offer greatly higher data bandwidth than 3G or even 4G networks. The service is intended to work in densely populated areas where there are many overlapping hotspots. Cisco Systems have announced major commitments to this approach.
Smartphones have taken hold extremely quickly, with demand for data escalating. In addition to downloading apps and accessing the internet, streaming media and cloud-based computing are becoming more and more in demand. The demand for high-bandwidth mobile internet has already exceeded what today’s networks can offer, but WiFi roaming and 4G services are now not far off. We can see a glimpse of a future where there is much less destination between PCs, smartphones and tablets – Microsoft’s Windows 8 is designed for tablet and PC (rather than having customised versions for each) and Google has already released a laptop that runs on Android, previously only used on mobile devices. Cloud-based services allow the exciting possibility of bringing the power of a desktop PC to a mobile device, an exciting prospect for cloud gaming (see our article on cloud gaming here). Cloud storage and computing mean that mobile computer no longer needs to be a compromise, with home and business users able to access their documents, media and applications wherever they are.
An always connected world will bring many more day-to-day services to your smartphones and mobile devices, and multi-channel solutions that provide a seamless experience across many devices will become more important info the future.