Those who pay attention to matters technological may have noticed that their mobile phones have been presenting them with a new option lately - 4G.
Back in May, LIME promised to have a 4G network up and running in Cayman during September, a promise which at the time seemed rather ambitious taking into account the quantum leap forward this would involve. However, by the middle of August, the network was already up and running along Seven Mile Beach, with everything well on track to have the whole of Grand Cayman covered by the end of August.
More exciting was the news that the Sister Islands would be joining the party sooner than anticipated. When announcing the new network it was estimated that Cayman Brac and Little Cayman would see a network upgrade at the beginning of 2012, but it has been announced that in all likelihood the Sister Islands could see the new network within a couple of weeks of the rollout in Grand Cayman.
What the new network means for mobile phone users is much faster data transfer, with the 4G network capable of download rates up to 21.1Mbps, or 60 times faster than the EDGE network it replaces.
The network is also compatible with 3G devices, meaning that many consumers who own smartphones and BlackBerrys will be able to make use of the faster network by just changing a couple of settings on their device.
According to Alan Dodds, commercial programmes director with LIME, the new network will make it possible for users to have a similar experience interacting with data regardless of where they are in the Cayman Islands.
“To a consumer I would like it to become very transparent so you have an experience at your desktop at home or at the office, you are using a service, you’re doing things, and when you move away now you’ll be able to enjoy that same experience. It doesn’t matter whether it’s wireless, going through a pair of copper wires or a fibre optic cable – the experience should be transparent to you,” he says.
With the EDGE network that mobile users were limited to previously, this was certainly not the case.
“You knew when you came out of the office there were certain things you were limited by in terms of what you could do on that phone, what you could do on your laptop, on your other devices until you’re back home and you linked up on the WiFi or actually plug in, so that now starts to become very blurry. As a network operator we run a business around a mobile business, a broadband business and a voice telephony business, and it all kind of merges, and that’s exciting,” says Dodds.
The technology takes the freedom devices like the BlackBerry to a whole new level, with access to large files now possible remotely and quickly.
“You will be able to drive from West Bay all the way to Cayman Kai and if you want to stay connected you’ll stay connected. This technology we’re deploying is really a true form of mobile broadband. It is seamless, it hands over, it has a huge range of devices that it can support, and it’s backward compatible with a lot of phones in the market today,” according to Dodds.
Although customers have been quick to take to the new technology, Tony Ritch, general manager of LIME Cayman Islands, believes that business stands to gain most by taking advantage of the capabilities of the 4G network.
“I think it is going to take some time to evolve, but I’m expecting to see businesses start to really treat the mobile broadband technology as a real utility whereby they can start taking their service and their capabilities on the road with them,” he says.
Ritch believes the technology has the potential to have a major impact on how businesses are run, once the right tools are put in place.
“An example of that will be workforce management whereby I really believe that there are businesses like utility companies or maintenance companies that stand to benefit. They can take tools on the road, whether it be in the form of a tablet or a laptop, allowing them to access their databases back at the office, allowing them to query faults, allowing them to dispatch a vehicle and track vehicles, making sure that the right person is being dispatched as he’s in the right area,” says Ritch.
He believes it may well take a while for businesses to realise the full potential of the technology and it will require some investment on their part, as well as a good dose of creativity to shape how the technology can assist them in streamlining and simplifying their operation.
“The creativity probably won’t come from us as an operator; it will come from our customers. We provide the platform, the enabler, but it will be the creativity of our customers when they come to us that will shape this,” says Dodds.
Another element that could have a big impact on business is the potential for mobile video calling brought about by the introduction of the 4G network.
“I think it will be about a new experience and also an enhanced way of collaborating, so I think you are going to see a lot more use of video calling. I really believe that that’s going to improve the way we collaborate,” he says.
Ritch says they the use of more advanced devices like tablet computers that combine greater portability than laptops with much better usability when it comes to interacting with data, because of the much bigger screen. He believes this should lead to even greater productivity while on the road.
“It’s not just a case of ‘I’ve got the email, I see it, and I’ll wait until I get back to the office’. I think you’re going to see more tablets emerging and people spending more time away from the office actually being productive because there is no need to go back to the office to receive a big file – it’s now going to be presented to you a lot more quickly, a lot more efficiently, and you then with a fairly advanced device can make better use of your time,” according to Ritch.
The technology will also move beyond smartphones and tablets, as 4G dongles will also be available for laptops, allowing access to the network while on the move. Another piece of technology that makes use of 4G is a MiFi device, which although smaller than a mobile phone, creates a WiFi hotspot that can be accessed by up to five WiFi enabled devices. This makes it possible to create ad-hoc Internet access wherever required, whether setting up an ad hoc conference room or lounging on the beach.
Even though the speed consumers are likely to see during everyday use will hover around the 5Mbps mark, which is comparable with LIME’s fixed line Internet service, the technology is not intended as a replacement for fixed line Internet. According to Ritch, LIME will be moving in line with mobile data services around the globe in providing plans with a cap on included data, as there has been a move away from unlimited mobile data services globally.
“In terms of unlimited broadband they are better off using their devices at home using our fixed line service or ADSL service. The reason why this is not a replacement technology is that we are dealing with radio spectrum technology, which is a limited resource so in terms of networks across the world, as here in Cayman, we would simply not be able to keep up with the level of investment to build a network that would be able to cater to unlimited data utilisation on the wireless network,” he says.