By Mark Mason, founder and CEO, Mubaloo
The data wars have begun. Eleven months after launching the UK’s first LTE network, EE has been joined by O2 and Vodafone with Three just around the corner. EE has the widest and fastest network available – and for the moment offers the best data allowance. From a user perspective, LTE delivers faster network speeds than most home or office connections. This means video streaming and video calls are not only better quality; without any spinning wheels.
As with fixed line internet, the jump from dialup to broadband was as significant as the jump from EDGE (2G) to HSPA (3G) in the mobile space. Suddenly, it was possible to send and receive multimedia files with greater ease. It was only really when demand for smartphones exploded in 2008 that 3G networks couldn’t handle the sudden demand and unlimited data became a commodity only available on Three.
Where 3G had a maximum speed of around 7mbps (or 14mbps on HSPA+), LTE has maximum speeds of 100mbps. The switch to LTE has been partly driven by the need to support the continued surge in data. On the one hand, LTE provides us with a massive opportunity to push what we can do with mobile devices; whilst on the other, data caps are still in place and something we need to think about from a user perspective.
LTE is fast. Seriously fast. And that’s good news for app developers and users. Apps don’t need to rely on WiFi for any data or speed driven connectivity. They just work the way they’re meant to. They don’t need to trick users into thinking actions are completed anymore. Press the button and the action will be done.
For the consumer space, this means any form of multimedia streaming or uploading is no longer a pain or a hassle. It works with next to no lag and means that users are spending less time waiting, more time consuming.
For the consumer market it means more applications can be used on mobile devices away from the office. It leads to faster or real-time sharing of large files or streaming media and better opportunities for group collaboration through HD video, audio and file editing on the move. According to a study carried out in the US last year by EE, LTE alone led to productivity increasing by 67% as a result of the jump in speed.
In the same way that many people abandoned home phones when mobiles came in, the same could eventually happen with fixed line broadband. The ability to turn your LTE mobile into a hotspot means you are your own personal walking WiFi hotspot (just faster.)
Connecting to free public WiFi networks, or indeed any WiFi network carries certain risks. In the case of free public networks, these include your personal information being shared with third parties for marketing and advertising or data being logged on potentially insecure networks. LTE however carries 128-bit authentication and encrypted data communication. As we all carry more personal information on our devices, keeping it protected is highly important – LTE is not only safer than 3G but also significantly safer than public WiFi networks.
The secure aspect of LTE opens up huge possibilities for more flexibility when it comes to mobile working, especially when tied in with the cloud. Being able to access and edit files on the move should lead to massive productivity gains in the business space. The chains that bind people to their desks are now well and truly broken.
Because LTE is based around data, it opens up opportunities for the Internet of Everything. The world of connectivity where your phone is the remote control to not just your digital life, but physical one too. As our phones have an ever increasing array of sensors and more wearable devices enter the market that monitor our activity, the idea of mobile healthcare explodes.
As data can be sent in real-time, developers are already working on innovative approaches to help provide better patient care and ease the strain on health providers. The idea of tricorders being able to do a check up on your body is nothing new (thank you Star Trek.) Now they are becoming a reality. If symptoms can be detected early, patients can be connected via HD video directly with a specialist saving on waiting time and ultimately the cost of care.
With telematics, we’re already seeing examples of insurers using mobile phones as a portal for helping to find customers driving habits. The safer the driver, the lower the insurance. Should there be an accident, the device not only knows where you are and can direct emergency services there but also has data about what happened before and during the accident (especially if it’s connected to sensors built into the vehicle itself.) If there are witnesses nearby, Bluetooth Low Energy could be utilised to send out an emergency signal that ask the witnesses to share pictures or video in real-time that would help emergency services to understand the severity of the situation before they leave – and give step-by-step guidance for how to help.
We’re still in the early days of LTE deployment. EE is leading the pack with the most generous data allowance with 10GB for £46 per month or 20GB for £51. When Three goes live later this year, the network has already said that its all-you-can-eat contracts will apply to LTE as well. When data caps are no longer an issue (but contracts instead priced by speed limits) this would open the doors for new revenue models for mobile advertising and could lead to more of an uptake of subscription based services. Any apps that utilise HD video, real-time gaming, cloud computing or augmented reality will be more usable and more useful.
As coverage spreads around the country, LTE will be especially useful in rural communities left behind by fixed line coverage. LTE has a wider spectrum allowing it to go further and be more effective. There will come a time when fixed broadband providers start to suffer as users move primarily to mobile.
The developers who find ways to make the most out of the faster connections will ultimately get the greatest rewards. After all, looking at smartphones today, it was only after the App Store came out that the iPhone became an iconic device. Gimmick apps helped to sell the device in the early days precisely because users could do things they’d never done before, such as blow on a candle and see it extinguish or move their device to see items move on the screen.