Retailers call for UK-wide 4G to boost m-commerce

The lack of capacity and bandwidth of public networks is limiting the opportunity to develop mobile commerce in the retail sector, according to industry experts.

The lack of capacity and bandwidth of public networks is limiting the opportunity to develop mobile commerce in the retail sector, according to industry experts.

Research from BT Expedite earlier this year found UK retailers plan to spend almost a quarter of their IT budgets on implementing and improving e-commerce and mobile commerce platforms.

However, during a panel session at the Internet Retailing conference in London, Ish Patel, group strategic development director at Aurora Fashions, said the limited capacity on public networks will be a challenge for retailers looking to expand mobile commerce services to customers.

"Regions with 3G will stall under the pressure of mobile services without the 4G upgrade. As more and more people make use of networks, public networks face capacity issues unless the big telcos keep pace with consumer demand," he added.

Patel added that wireless networks also fail to provide the capacity and bandwidth needed to support customers shopping on their mobile phones. "Wireless networks are restricted within shopping centres for individual retailers, for example, as they want customers on their own wireless network," said Patel.

Kamarulzaman Ahmad, head of strategy, innovation and customer experience at Air Asia Berhad, said that, until telcos increase bandwidth, the airline is limited to selling tickets via its mobile commerce channel.

He said the airline has introduced mobile commerce to allow customers to buy plane tickets up to four hours before departure in response to customer demand. Mobile commerce now accounts for 5% of the company's overall ticket sales.

However, Ahmad said bandwidth issues are preventing the company from developing its basic mobile application. "We'd like to introduce travel advisory services, but are limited to basic booking functions and information," he said.

Ahmad also outlined challenges in using wireless networks to update in-flight entertainment.

"We no longer have to update aircraft with videos and movies using satellites, we can use wireless. But wireless networks currently belong to the airport authorities," he said.

Anton Gething, co-founder at social commerce company, Ntoklo, said phone technology is faster than networks at the moment, but mobile users can be educated to reduce their expectations. "It's a matter of education. Customers can be less demanding and expect slower loading times," he said.

The government recently a announced £150m investment in improving mobile phone networks. Working with regulatory body Ofcom, the government will extend mobile coverage to 99% of the country by procuring additional mobile masts. The UK currently has 95% coverage. Procurement of new masts will begin next year.

Ofcom will delay the auction of its 4G spectrum due to a number of technical and competition issues around the sale.

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