Idea Lab: 4G spectrum is the government’s most coveted networking asset

Britain’s networking giants are jostling for position as they await the release of the 4G spectrum auction by Ofcom.

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Britain’s networking giants are jostling for position as they await the release of the 4G spectrum auction by Ofcom. But after years of delays and arguments over liberalisation and ownership caps, it stands to be seen whether British operators can enter the 4G arena without the hindrances that have stalled uptake in the US.

Once extra spectrum for 4G is available, mobile providers will be able to offer faster access to wireless services, easing congestion in existing networks and serving new rural customers at about the rate of today’s ADSL home broadband speeds.

Operators are desperate for this new spectrum since currently mobile telephony occupies only 4% of the spectrum suitable for radio transmissions. The proposed auction of 4G-supporting frequencies in the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands, now expected to start in Q2 2012, will open an extra 250 MHz to mobile telephony. This will add almost 75% more capacity to the networks, which is 80% more space than was available in the 3G auction in 2000 that netted the Government £22.5bn.

More 4G spectrum will mean more cell traffic on enterprise wireless networks.

The release of 4G spectrum could have fall out on the enterprise since it will result in even more mobile data traffic—much of which will land on Wi-Fi LANs.

According to Gartner, through 2013, 35% of smartphone wireless data traffic will go through private and public Wi-Fi networks. By 2016, the investment in 4G will mean network infrastructure must be poised to support a shift in capacity from voice to data traffic that stems from cellular offload. This shift will introduce new traffic balancing and security challenges.
Phillip Redman, research vice president in Gartner Research, cautions that the changes will test network engineers and the ways they control traffic within their enterprise systems.

“Since mobile networks are based on contention, the more users that share the bandwidth, the slower the speeds. Diverting traffic to non-cellular network technology should improve system throughput. Security provisions will need to be in place to protect corporate data because most public Wi-Fi hot spots do not offer encryption technology, but will support corporate encryption methods, such as VPNs,” said Redman.

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