4G arrives in the UK - at a price

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4G mobile service in the UK will be announced today
4G mobile service in the UK will be announced today Photo: Lewis Stickley/PA Archive/Press Association Images

As new generation mobile internet is announced in Britain - there are questions about competition, costs and the consumer.

Today's announcement of a new 4G service for the UK is a very significant milestone in Britain's bumpy digital journey.

We need to catch up.

A long list of other nations - from Australia to Uzbekistan - already have the super fast mobile broadband for their phones and laptops.

Our demand for digital data is expected to rise thirty fold within five years and we can't afford to be marooned in the slow lane of the information superhighway.

The big tech firms are licking their lips - it's predicted that income from service fees will reach $100 billion by 2014, but I'd like to ask a few questions about competition, costs and the consumer.

Somehow the telecom regulator Ofcom, charged with ensuring a competitive market, has allowed just one operator, Everything Everywhere, to launch it.In effect it creates a big fat juicy digital monopoly. Until rivals can join the fray (not before next year at the earliest), consumers will have no choice.

For consumers, the costs of joining this new generation will be considerable. The bad news is that your existing phone won't work on 4G - you'll need a new one.

Tomorrow Apple is expected to announce a new iPhone that is 4G capable.

What's more, you probably won't be able to buy handsets from any of the forty or so nations that already have 4G.

One of the problems with this technology is that different nations are using different systems which are not compatible.

As for the cost of 4G, we still know very little.

Be under no illusions - this will be expensive. It's estimated that operators will plough in £5.5 billion to get the network underway in the UK.

They will need to claw back that massive investment through our bills.

The ability to work faster and smarter on the move brings great benefits to Britain, 125,000 jobs are likely to be created just to roll out the technology here.

But nobody should expect a cheap ride in this new lane of the information superhighway.