Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Need for Speed?

I was one of the lucky people that got tickets to see the 100m final at this year's Olympics and watch Usain Bolt set a new Olympic record. Speed is also a major talking point in the world of the internet. In the last few days there have been major debates over 4th Generation Mobile Internet services and the need for speed when it comes to content delivery. These developments could have a major impact on e-learning and particularly mobile learning approaches.

In the UK a mobile company Everything, Everywhere which owns the T-Mobile and Orange brands has been given the go ahead to launch its own 4G LTE service later in 2012. This is a year ahead of spectrum being made available for other companies to offer similar 4G services. The other companies are clearly upset as they worry that customers will migrate to the new faster mobile internet provider. Do they have cause for concern? Will 4G services make much of a difference and do customers want faster speeds? the answer in both cases seems to be a resounding yes.

4G is the next generation mobile phone communications standard and promises ultra fast broadband access.  There are two main 4G standards namely mobile Wimax and Long term Evolution (LTE). The new LTE standard is predicted to deliver speeds that are 7 to 10 times faster than current 3G services. There is a downside for consumers in that we will need devices that work with the relevant 4G standard but it is commonly thought that the iphone 5 will be 4G enabled. The positive news is that everything we do on the mobile internet will be faster. 

Do we want faster mobile internet? Last week ZDnet reported on a survey that said in the US 47% of customers didn't see a need for 4G and faster speeds. This was a surprise to me, given an announcement this week that Facebook had rewritten its App so it would be faster for customers in response to complaints about the speed when loading timelines with lots of images and photos. Matthew Miller at ZDnet thinks the survey results are skewed because people haven't experienced the difference. He says "Once you use your smartphone or tablet with LTE it is tough to ever go back and I know that millions of people will change their mind about LTE as soon as the new iPhone launches and they see how fast everything flies."

I think 4G speeds could fundamentally change the nature of the mobile web, though there will be issues of cost. The launch of a 4G service in the UK will increase pressure to speed up the availability of services from all major mobile providers. Faster speeds will improve the mobile web experience and allow those of us in e-learning to deliver more content via the mobile web. It will significantly enhance the attractiveness of html solutions that play on all mobile devices especially responsive e-learning designs (RED).  We can expect to see more investment in this area of e-learning over the next few years.