How the 4G revolution has changed communication

The rollout of 4G has transformed our ability to communicate on the go. The former CEO of EE, the first company to bring 4G to the UK, explains how our browsing habits have been forever changed, and what it has meant for the country

It’s quite a claim to call something a “revolution”.

However, in the right circumstances it’s entirely appropriate. Going back to the dictionary definition, one meaning for revolution is “A sudden, complete or marked change in something.”

olaf-swantee
I would say that the launch of 4G mobile technology was such a change. My experience of it came at the helm of EE, which launched the UK’s first and leading 4G network in 2012.

To explain why it was so revolutionary, we should first cast our minds back ten years or so. At that time, there was relatively little movement in the UK’s mobile market. It was all about calls, texts and a little bit of web on the move. Third-generation, or 3G, mobile networks had been built for these services and further investment was lacking.

Meanwhile, the world had been changing. The Internet had been with us for twenty years, and the smartphone market really started to boom in 2007, catapulting “anytime, anywhere” online access (and expectations) into our pockets.

The existing 3G infrastructure just hadn’t been set up to cater for the surge in data traffic that resulted. If you think back, I’m sure you can remember the days of waiting on tenterhooks for an email to send, or looking at a flickering screen as you waited for a webpage to load on your phone. As for watching video on the go? Forget it.

The launch of 4G

It was time for something new. My company decided to take the plunge and introduce Britain’s first 4G network, which would have the speeds and capacity to manage the needs of data-hungry devices and customers. (How we did it is another story in its own right.)

EE came into the world on 30th October 2012.

We paid close attention to what was happening on the new 4G network and started to review the findings in the EE 4GEE Mobile Living Index report. Within a year of its launch, we saw a rapid rise in the use of social media over the network. In the six months leading up to December 2013 this rose from 13% to 18% of our overall 4G traffic.

Within a year of its launch, we saw a rapid rise in the use of social media over the network

We also surveyed customers and found that those set to do their Christmas shopping via mobile had nearly tripled. 57% of our customers were accessing the Internet via mobile for more than one hour every day, with 21% spending more than three hours.

Later reports showed a sharp hike in the amount of time our customers were spending streaming music, TV programmes and movies on the go – and a reduction in the amount of time they were spending connected to their home broadband supply. New connected devices – like cameras and in-car Wi-Fi – started to take off. The availability of 4G connectivity had started to change people’s daily habits.

People were doing more online, on the move, because they could.

Revolutionary impact

But the true value of 4G and its impact on the way we communicate was really brought home to me at the end of last year.

We were able to demonstrate the significant impact of enhanced connectivity on British businesses, including its most vital public services:

  • In the NHS, improved communication between patients and care providers has the potential to reduce missed and unnecessary appointments by 65%, which would represent a saving of £585m
  • Public housing providers could get connected on site to 4G within three days, rather than waiting a month for a broadband connection, enabling homes to be built more quickly and cost-effectively
  • Police forces deploying 4G mobile devices could save hundreds of thousands of hours of staff time per year, the equivalent of more than 100 officers on the beat
4g-mobile-revolution

Olaf Swantee is the co-author of new book, The 4G Mobile Revolution – Creation, innovation and transformation at EE, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99.

At the same time, new research we released with the Centre for Economic & Business Research (CEBR) and YouGov estimated that the efficiency and productivity gains made from 4G would give an £8.9bn boost to UK Plc in 2015, and continue to rise each year.

Finally, EE was selected by the Home Office to provide Britain’s new Emergency Services network, giving 300,000 of these critical workers access to 4G voice and data for the first time.

That’s why I say that the launch of 4G was a revolution. We really did pioneer a sudden, complete and marked change for the UK and kick-started a new communications age. It was fantastic to be a part of it.

There’s more to come, by the way. Just wait until 5G arrives! That’s when things are going to get really interesting… Watch this space.

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