Firstly, go off and read this rather excellent background article here. Back now?
So. We have 2g (slow, digital, 9600 baud), 3g (Fast digital up to 21mb but shared bandwith across the cell, and bad non-urban access and dead spots) and 4g - basically a tweaked Wifi signal with far more bandwidth and less latency.
Telcos are basically dinosaurs. Look at the speed in which they didnt roll out 3g, and look at how O2 - part of Telefonica - messed up 3g even in central london. Why?
3g is expensive. And since its trying to use a lot less signal - we dont want microwaved brains, right - the cells are smaller. Given its a radio cell, all bandwidth is shared across that cell. So they had to put in a lot more 3g cells to replace 2g ones, and those cells are expensive. Since Ofcom (our useless govenment regulator) made the rules, the mobile operators have got off with rolling out 3g in urban areas, and ignoring everyone else. Or 'Cherrypicking'. So if you have a nice urban postcode, you have choice. If you live in the country - that is - you can see green - then you dont.
Apparently Ofcom is going to be a little more strict with the 4g auction, which they havent even started yet. Germany has 4g, and Sweden has 4g. Deployed. We're still arguing about the shape of the deal.
Which is rapidly becoming moot. Why? The operators are finally starting to play smart. Orange and T-mobile are merging, becoming Everything Everywhere. (Very optimistic title, given their current coverage). And Vodafone and O2 are going to share their masts. Leaving poor old Three - the only '3g only' network in the UK in a very exposed position.
It doesnt take crystal balls to see that they will continue to cherrypick urban areas, and merge services in ruralshire areas. We will get the impression of choice, without any competitive pressure, no doubt. In my own humble opinion. There. That should sort out any litigious lawyers reading that.
I have a slightly more optimistic view. 4g is nothing more than a tweaked Wifi. And these mobile phones, tablets, etc, will be able - I'm guessing at some stage - to use any wifi. A roaming femtocell on each device, so to speak. And at that stage, the Telcos are just there to provide connectivity. Not phones, or sims, but simple wifi connectivity. Something, it has to be said, they've been universally shit at so far.
Does this mean that the mobile telcos are going the way of the dinosaur? Perhaps. We can all hope. Perhaps in another 20 years, our mobile phone and data needs will be part and parcel of the fabric of our life - not like some limpet clinging onto our reproductive organs wallets, sucking out our lives.