With smartphones making up 55% of all mobiles sold across the world last quarter, it’s no surprise that more and more Brits are glued to their touchscreens on the way to work and while travelling, consuming an ever increasing amount of data on the move.
As a nation we use up around 650 million gigabytes of data a month - that’s equivalent to more than one billion copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and we expect to be able to stay connected wherever we are, whether that’s a train, plane or an automobile.
Smartphone 3G/4G signal and Wi-Fi access while travelling has historically been patchy at best. That could be set to change though, as transport industries are working with Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, to bring you faster connections while you’re busy getting from A to B.
Until just under a month ago even using a Kindle during takeoff was frowned upon. Now everything could be set to change, as the European Commission (EC) has approved the use of 3G and 4G networks on flights.
The decision whether or not to allow customers to use smartphones during flights remains with the individual airlines, and it’s likely that airlines could charge a premium for the service, similar to the way Wi-Fi and 2G is currently available on certain flights today.
Although Wi-Fi has been available on trains in the UK for a while, it could never be described as the fastest of connections. With only a 2.5 Mbps connection to work with, passengers are often severely limited as to what they can do online. Train companies will even block video streaming sites such as iPlayer and Netflix in an effort to squeeze as much out of the tiny connection as possible without slowing it down further.
Recently however, the rail industry has been working to roll-out high speed mobile broadband across the busiest parts of Britain’s rail network. By increasing the number of mobile phone masts, network rail is hoping to increase the speed of each trains connection up to a superfast 50Mbps. This will allow users to stream video right to their device without as much as a single ‘buffering’ symbol in sight.
In a recent study by Ofcom, the independent communications regulator was shocked to find that nearly 10% of roads in the UK have no 3G service at all, and only 35% of A and B roads were served by all the major networks.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, 4G coverage is growing by the day and could go some way to solving this problem. Ofcom predicts that nearly 98% of the country will be served by a 4G network within the next two or three years, providing a near universal superfast broadband connection.
Ofcom will also be carrying out further analysis over the coming year to examine whether the government may have to intervene in bringing a better connection to Britain’s roads.
Even when you’re not on the move public Wi-Fi hotspots are popping up all the time. The number of spots offering an internet connection has doubled in the last year from 16,000 to an impressive 34,000, and the amount of data used is up to around 2 million gigabytes a month.
This sudden increase can be in part attributed to the Government’s Super-Connected Cities programme which, despite having to back down from its original far grander scheme, has provided funding for a number of large public Wi-Fi networks in various urban areas.
If you’re a super-connected smartphone user always flicking through Facebook updates or emails, then the latest developments in mobile internet will come as a pleasant surprise. It’s not going to happen overnight, but (infrastructure allowing) we should see a steady improvement in internet availability on the go.
About the author
David Blabey is a Copywriter for Simplifydigital.co.uk, an independent UK broadband, phone and TV comparison website. He lives in London, and has been writing about technology for some time, having previously been a technician for Geek Squad.