It has been a long and somewhat slow journey to get here, but this week the UK finally saw the launch of a 4G network by mobile operator EE.
Formed from the merger of T-Mobile and Orange, EE has rolled out the faster broadband connectivity across 11 cities to begin with – going up to 16 by the end of the year – and is investing millions each week into increasing the rest of its network capabilities over the coming months.
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Now for EE it is about convincing customers to ditch their existing mobile networks and move over to its new 4G contracts before the rest of the competition sets their own networks live – likely to happen in mid-2013 following Ofcom’s spectrum auction in December.
But while most of the focus has fallen on the consumer, there is a business story to this launch as well and what the new found speeds – up to 40Mbps – on a smartphone or tablet could bring to a company.
Firstly there is the extra productivity on hand for employees. With the increasing number of businesses adopting mobile working policies, there has been a much bigger focus on connectivity on the move.
We are still not at a stage in the UK where Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and, while 3G can offer the capabilities of receiving emails or social networking, to send large files fast or to use new business applications such as video calling, a much faster connection is needed.
These tools, as well as increasing productivity, can cut costs for a company, reducing the need for employees to travel, as well as cutting necessary office space as more people work from home.
With a strong 4G network, these solutions can be brought to life in a way that current 3G connections or ad hoc Wi-Fi just cannot serve.
Development of web and mobile presence
The development and adoption of these new applications are the second way 4G could benefit a business.
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There used to be a focus on the need for a web presence but increasingly companies have to invest in a mobile presence too.
A new study from eBay this week showed 39% of consumers were using their mobile devices to browse for presents in the lead up to Christmas and 55% were planning to use them to make purchases this year – more than ever before.
Companies like eBay or Amazon who have invested into mobile applications have been ramping up their sales on the platform, but even those who do not have an app have had more people accessing their websites on their phones.
The one thing putting customers off from this type of interaction, however, is the frustration born from a lack of connectivity, making the experience awkward and slow, enticing them to head to the laptop or PC, rather than mess about with a poor mobile signal.
Better service for consumers
In eBay’s study, the top three barriers preventing consumers from shopping on their mobiles were slow connection speeds, payments timing out and network reliability.
With 4G connectivity, there is the opportunity to remove these walls and offer a better service, pleasing the consumer and seeing the profits mount up for a business.
The retail sector isn’t the only one that could benefit from the connectivity 4G brings though. A study from EE showed in the US, where 4G has been available since 2010, a number of verticals had boosted development as a result of the technology.
Construction firms have been using it for sending back real-time data from projects on site, while one car firm has even turned its vehicles into 4G hotspots.
Knowing customers can access faster connections means businesses can bring new features to their products or services unlike ever before, exciting their users and building up new ventures within a company.
But all these benefits are part of a long term strategy. As we mentioned here, EE is the only provider with 4G right now and only in a limited number of cities where the likelihood is there will already be strong 3G connections and a lot of Wi-Fi on offer.
Where 4G will make a real impact is when all the networks have an offering and seeing the 4G symbol on the home screen of your smartphone or tablet becomes the norm.
This is still some way off, but businesses should look now to ready themselves, innovate and make sure they are prepared to offer both their employees and their customers the great experience 4G will bring.