Before the move to '5G,' operators need to get 3G right first

Huawei made a bold statement about its future plans to invest in "5G" services this week, saying it will spend around $600 million (€449 million) over the next four years in research and innovation into this area.

The Chinese vendor is already predicting that the first "5G" networks will be ready for commercial deployment starting in 2020 and will deliver peak data rates of over 10 Gbps, 100 times faster than today's fastest LTE networks.

That's pretty fast! However, as someone who gets regularly thrown onto appallingly slow EDGE services when 3G network coverage--let alone LTE coverage--is not available, other news this week provides a timely reminder that operators and vendors still sometimes need to learn to walk before they can run.

For sure, operators have been running ahead of themselves since the far off days of GPRS and early 3G services, when promises of what 3G could bring failed to materialise, certainly with regard to those first service launches. It's hard to blame operators for this tactic: as markets saturate and competition bites in most European countries, operators are placing a great deal of hope in future LTE services, and no doubt they will be milking the "5G" tag as soon as they can.

At the same time, operators in France and the UK got their knuckles rapped this week over 3G and LTE coverage. In the UK, Ofcom said Vodafone was the only operator that failed to meet 3G coverage requirements by a deadline of June 30.

After conducting an assessment of each operator, Ofcom found that EE, 3 UK and O2 had met the obligation but said Vodafone fell 1.4 per cent short of the 90 per cent coverage requirement.

Nonetheless, Vodafone has now put in place a plan to bring itself into compliance with the 3G coverage obligation by the end of 2013, Ofcom said. This will involve rolling out 3G to more mobile masts than Vodafone had originally estimated as being necessary, the regulator added.

In October, Ofcom also told off operators for their rather poor coverage of British roads after figures indicated that just 35 per cent of the length of the UK's A and B roads are served by all four 3G networks, and 9 per cent have no 3G coverage at all.

Meanwhile, over the Channel in France, French consumer group UFC Que Choisir said it has filed a legal complaint against Orange France and Vivendi-owned SFR over the claims they have been making about their respective LTE services. According to UFC Que Choisir, tests conducted during Oct. 3-17 in Paris showed a discrepancy between the LTE coverage that Orange France and SFR claim to have in the capital and the access consumers really get.

Orange and SFR would no doubt dispute the claims, and in any case are stepping up their LTE rollouts on a week-by-week basis.

Before the 5G marketing machine gets fully up and running, it would be great if operators did focus a little more on getting the basics right. LTE services are already up and away, but 3G is still underpinning much of current operator businesses and looking after the basics is still a lesson that operators often appear unwilling or unable to learn.--Anne