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How will 4G change the concept of the smartphone?

How superfast connectivity is changing phone designs

4G

Smartphone technology has advanced a great deal over the past few years and as a result the mobile market is becoming packed with multi-functional devices that can do everything from making calls to taking pictures and streaming videos. See also Group test: What's the best smartphone?

The demand for a device which is capable of all manner of tasks is now greater than ever, and with 4G now gradually rolling out across the UK user expectations of the smartphone look set to increase even further.

4G's super-fast connection speeds are a huge development from the 3G networks most of our phones run on today. The new technology builds up on this infrastructure, and thanks to 4G's larger bandwidth data is able to pass through at a faster rate, promising theoretical download speeds of up to and above 100Mbps.

Streaming, downloading data-heavy content and staying in touch with the wider world will become a whole lot quicker and easier, and 4G is said to eventually offer speeds resembling those many users currently experience with their home broadband. When it is fully rolled out 4G will benefit a great number of people, particularly those in rural areas, who are still forced to live with little or no 3G connection.

But, could 4G be powerful enough to help pave the way for a single device future? As more and more people use the same mobile device in and out of the office, there could well come a time where there is little need for PCs and laptops.

4G's impact on the PC Market

A recent report from research firm IDC has predicted that PC sales will fall during 2013, for the second consecutive year, while the forecast for smartphone and tablet sales is once again looking bright.

The rise of the smartphone and the impact this will have on other tech industries has long been debated, but despite these latest findings desktop computing is still hugely popular. There is still a long way for mobile technology to develop if it wants to stand any chance of competing with the processing power and memory that PCs have to offer.

The rollout of 4G will undoubtedly be a key development for the mobile industry in the UK, and although 4G speeds are currently only available on phone contracts from EE – a merger of Orange and T Mobile – Vodafone and O2 are both due to start pushing out their super-fast services later this summer.

A range of 4G-enabled handsets like the iPhone 5 are already available for use with the new networks, and many mobile users are reaping the benefits of the service. 4G promises to offer download speeds between five and seven times faster than 3G, and once other networks hop on board the 4G bandwagon the number of those experiencing this level of connectivity will no doubt increase.

4G: Looking ahead

However, right now, even the most high-end, spec-heavy smartphones don't have the ability to store thousands of pictures, music files, emails, films and games, as they would on a PC or laptop.

It's going to take quite some time for the benefits of 4G to really start shining through, but it now becomes conceivable that in the future users will have one smartphone-sized device for use on the move, which can then be docked at work to operate as a computer, or at home to act as a tablet.

While this single device idea may be a long way off, 4G takes us one step closer to a world where this could eventually become possible and the same device could let you log into a virtual work desktop during the day, and transform into a personal computer at night.

4G will transform what people can do on the move, and will likely cause an explosion in mobile services, inspiring manufacturers and developers alike to produce hardware and software that will one day become more central to our digital lives.

Over the years society has adopted a non-stop connectivity mindset, learning to communicate effectively on the go, so it's no wonder mobile now accounts for an even larger share of overall internet traffic. 4G will further help fulfil our desire for staying connected and consuming data whenever and wherever we are.

4G: What next?

It's going to take time for the impact of 4G to reach every corner of the country, with some rural parts of the UK still without a decent 3G signal. However, 4G does mean that we can start to think differently about the way we use and rely upon our smartphones, as well as the way we consume data.

As expected, there is still a great deal of scepticism about the impact 4G is going to have on various markets, including the PC arena, but while mobile technology has come on leaps and bounds over the years, desktop computing is going to be around for some time yet.

4G has the potential to get the masses connected, and by 2017 it is hoped that almost 100% of the population will be experiencing its lightning-fast speeds. As with everything in the world of tech, 4G isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it seems that this is just the start of a new era where our smartphones will play an even more central role in our everyday professional and personal lives.

This guest post was written by Sarah Hazelwood of Phones 4u.

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