4G wireless to revolutionise rural Wales, says Ofcom

A smart phone
Image caption A farming leader says 4G services will benefit farmers in remote rural areas

The roll-out of super-fast 4G wireless services in Wales is being forecast to "revolutionise" rural areas which have patchy or no mobile coverage.

Elinor Williams, of Ofcom in Wales, said people would benefit greatly.

During a reception at the Royal Welsh Show on Tuesday, the regulator said 4G should be available to up to 99% of mobile phone users in Wales.

Ofcom unveiled plans to auction the bandwidth on Tuesday, but bidding will not start until early 2013.

It said it expected consumers to start receiving services late next year.

The auction of the 4G spectrum will be the largest yet, equivalent to three-quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today.

The last time an auction was held, for 3G in 2000, it raised a record £22.5bn for the Treasury.

The additional spectrum should mean faster speeds for downloading data - such as music and movies - to phones as more capacity is made spare for all the networks.

Ms Williams said Ofcom received many letters of complaint from people in Wales with no mobile or intermittent coverage, but 4G would improve that.

"The introduction of 4G will be revolutionary in areas of rural Wales which currently have no mobile coverage or intermittent coverage," Ms Williams said.

She said 2.4% of Wales had no 3G coverage, and counties such as Powys, Ceredigion and Anglesey experienced poor mobile phone coverage.

"It will be particularly useful to businesses in remote rural areas and for people such as farmers. It'll mean that they can conduct their business from a hand-held device when they would have previously had to use a personal computer in their home," Ms Williams added.

"4G will improve social inclusion, and more importantly will provide more access to education in remote areas."

The parts of the spectrum being sold - at the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bandwidths - will include parts of the wireless spectrum historically used by analogue TV, which is switched off as digital is rolled out.

Speaking at the Royal Welsh Show, Matthew Conway of Ofcom said there would be between 98% and 99% "outdoor availability" of 4G in Wales.

He said this would be higher than both 2G and 3G coverage in Wales, which stands at 99.2% and 97.6% respectively.

Ofcom hopes 98% of the UK will have 4G coverage by 2017.

Farmer's son Nick Fenwick, who grew up on a hill farm in Llanbrynmair, near Machynlleth, Powys, with poor mobile coverage said the introduction of 4G would be hugely beneficial to farmers.

Mr Fenwick, who is director of agricultural policy at the Farmers' Union of Wales, which is hosting Tuesday's Ofcom meeting, said: "The farming industry, in increasing numbers, is reliant on smart phone technology such as apps.

"It's second nature for the up-and-coming younger generation to use their phones in innovative ways.

"Farmers receive emails on their phones and check the internet for the latest prices for things like livestock feed.

"Improvements in technology such as 4G, which will improve coverage and data transfer, will be hugely beneficial for farmers."

Wales is a nation of fast adopters when it comes to new gadgets such as smart phones and e-readers, according to Ofcom research published last week.

Meanwhile, the Welsh government said earlier in July that it had signed a broadband deal with BT to upgrade the network for 96% of properties by 2015.

It hailed the £425m deal as the biggest of its kind in the UK and a boost for the economy.

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