What does 4G mean for the CIO?

Judging from what was on show in Barcelona this week at the GSMA Mobile World Congress, the latest mobile technologies offer a lot of new features, including high-definition video and CD-quality sound on mobile phones, to brag about in the boardroom.

Judging from what was on show in Barcelona this week at the GSMA Mobile World Congress, the latest mobile technologies offer a lot of new features, including high-definition video and CD-quality sound on mobile phones, to brag about in the boardroom.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The talk of the show was 4G mobile technology, which promises ultra-fast mobile broadband. It offers the usual benefits of smaller, cheaper and faster technology, and something more besides - the chance to ditch corporate voice and data networks entirely.

IT directors will be able to take advantage of the technology from next summer in the US, thanks to a multi-billion dollar plan by Verizon Wireless to open a coast-to-coast high-speed mobile phone network.

Europe may not be far behind, if member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament can agree the rules to create a borderless, harmonised telecommunications market.

This is because Vodafone, Verizon's partner, has also been field-testing a 4G technology, LTE (long-term evolution), in Madrid, Budapest and Dusseldorf, where it was getting peak download speeds of 50Mbps to 60Mbps.

Need for speed

That is about one-sixth of what the LTE standard offers, but close to another 4G technology, WiMax, which provides up to 72Mbps upload and download. At these speeds, most companies will find it worth re-evaluating the cost of owning and operating their present voice and data networks.

Hardware makers and network operators are trying to make it easy for businesses to switch, as are network equipment firms such as Cisco and Juniper Networks, which are touting the idea of virtualised networks.

Already, most mobile operators offer to manage enterprises' voice and data networks. 4G will accelerate this by letting them offer to unify and converge all that traffic, thus relieving firms of most network costs.

Many firms will find this attractive, especially if European countries open their telecoms borders, in which case the provision and management of networked communications will become increasingly outsourced and virtualised.

Waiting game

That is the plan, but Juniper Research analyst Andrew Kitson is not convinced. "It has taken 10 years [since 3G licences were first awarded] to get here, and we still have not got full deployment of 3G [or] the handsets and terminals."

That is partly because the government's auction of 3G licences left mobile operators strapped for cash to roll out the new technology.

Kitson says that will not happen again with 4G.

Not only are network operators wiser, economically and emotionally things are different now. Back then, the dotcom crash had yet to happen today, we are already in the early stages of a long, deep recession.

Economic boost

But many in Barcelona this week believe mobile networking is the engine to haul the European economy out of its deepening rut.

A study for the European Commission published late last year, said a harmonised open market in telecoms will create a million jobs and add €850bn in economic value. That would be a welcome contribution to make up what the bankers lost.

So what should CIOs do? Write to Ofcom to push for faster spectrum clearance and reallocation. Get Ofcom to stop protecting the incumbent fixed and wireless network operators and build a truly level playing field.

It might also be wise to contact second-hand dealers for prices on old pbxs, desk phones, routers and redundant copper wires the cash will come in handy for the 4G goodies in the pipeline.


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