It seems that after years of anticipation and false dawns, real mobile broadband is finally upon us. Wireless technology has evolved sufficiently that we can use suitably enhanced equipment with confidence that it will not only work but work fast. Some 3G networks admittedly feel like old school dial-up, but with HSPA-enabled networks we are definitely getting there.
4G is expected to signal another leap forward. Anyone who bets that the early performance will match the forecasts of the equipment manufacturers is demonstrating the primacy of hope over experience. Yet it's safe to assume that we will move forward significantly in terms of bandwidth and line speed.
That step change will be highly significant. It will allow us to use data on the move just as we would at home, whether as a truly mobile user (in a car or a train, say) or as a nomadic user (in a variety of fixed locations). 4G will be all about fast data access.
Still, if super-fast data access was all that 4G gave us, we wouldn't really be talking about it as a change in the rules of the game. Where 4G is likely to make the biggest difference is in interlocking with fixed data networks to provide us with ubiquitous broadband – fast data access from anywhere and everywhere.
Ubiquitous broadband means that I can be connected all the way from home to office, office to airport, airport to hotel, with no significant break in service or service quality. Ubiquity means that I will be able to access all my web-based resources from wherever I happen to be, and will rarely need to work on offline versions.
As a result, the server will become much more significant, and the client – the personal equipment that I use – less so. As my confidence grows that the web can be practically accessible from pretty much anywhere, my client devices will slim down, carrying decreasing amounts of data and eventually providing little more than access to the boundless resources of the web.
This is likely to have significant consequences for the PC hardware industry. As my client tends toward a size zero, it’s also likely to become increasingly cheap and disposable. I will increasingly treat my notebook, netbook or whatever I choose to use, as I would a radio, TV, DVD player or other pieces of consumer electronics – indeed the channels through which such devices are being sold and their price points are increasingly positioning them this way in the market.