With Ofcom's 4G spectrum auction finally over, and with EE already rolling out the UK’s first 4G mobile broadband network, it seems mobile broadband is finally coming of age.
A 2012 Broadband Genie survey showed almost 40 per cent of respondents would happily drop home broadband for a good mobile broadband service, while another 40 per cent said they’d run the two side by side.
Now mobile broadband speeds of 20Mb are becoming a reality, while the technology has plenty more to come. But can it really make an impact on the home broadband incumbents such as Virgin Media, BT and Sky?
The 'no' camp
Many people experiencing mobile broadband over the past decade have got a pretty sorry story to tell. Drop outs, terrible speeds and a real lack of progress have given mobile broadband a pretty terrible legacy.
While the promise of faster speeds is definitely a boon for mobile broadband suppliers, there's a pretty big faith hurdle for it to overcome for many consumers. Sure, many people would love high quality mobile broadband – especially in rural areas; but its going to need to be reliable and robust before many take the plunge. While home broadband suppliers have their critics, the truth is that for the vast majority of people it simply works.
And let's not forget the services many now associate with home broadband; namely television and streaming. The integrated services of the big home broadband providers are going to be hard to drag people away from – and 20Mb speeds are still only a fifth of the faster current UK consumer product. And don't get us started on data limits…
The ‘yes’ camp
While 4G mobile broadband may not be as fast as home broadband, in truth the majority of people can get by quite adequately with a 10Mb connection let alone 100Mb. A reliable mobile broadband connection will be more than sufficient for the average user, who will be getting email, social networking and surfing the net.
While reliability has certainly been an issue for mobile broadband in terms of signal consistency, this is mostly an issue when on the move. If your 4G dongle or MiFi unit are static in an area of good coverage, you’re going to have a much better online experience. And with mobile networks coming together to provide joint networks (T-Mobile and Orange; O2 and Vodafone), this is getting better all the time.
Of course some people will keep their home broadband due to services such as cable television, but Freeview meets most people’s needs.
So, a good 4G connection will be able to meet most consumer needs at home. And then you get to take it on the train, on holiday, to the pub; it’s both flexible and portable, making it a great all-round alternative to home broadband.
As tends to be the case with any new technology, its best to let the techy early adopters do the testing for the rest of us. The potential of 4G is undeniable, but so are the network reliability issues of its predecessor, 3G. That said, if you’re in an area that BT and Virgin forgot (with maximum home broadband speeds of 8Mb), and you have good EE 4G coverage in your area, you may want to give it a try now.