Just what will we do with 4G's NBN of the air?

New Zealand is inching towards 4G LTE mobile coverage with a trial to see how people will use the new network.

Telecom New Zealand this week revealed details of its 4G LTE trails. Some 100 or so of its Gen-i and SME customers will be trialling its Huawei-developed technology, with the aim of getting a 4G commercial service off the ground sometime later this year.

The businesses taking part include the household names TVNZ, Mitre 10, and Westpac Bank.

But as I saw the geeks playing with their laptops, showing high definition videos from YouTube or fancy computer games, or dials showing download speeds in excess of 100MB/s, I did wonder what the point of it all was?

Surely there must be a better business or consumer benefit than this?

Telecom plans to spend "significant" amounts on rolling out a new network, I was told, though they would not tell me how much.

To use this 4G network, users will need 4G-capable devices, in other words, new or amended kit. So the fancy Samsung smartphone I bought over Christmas is already behind the times.

And what will be the cost of the data? If you are sucking it up at extra high speeds, what are the risks of letting bills escalate out of control?

With all this cost, where is the benefit? There are many questions needing answers.

We have seen similar issues facing the roll-outs of Ultrafast broadband on either side of the Tasman. Our governments have poured in billions of taxpayer dollars into various networks, but the take-up from customers has been slower and lower than expected.

I can only wonder if we might see the same here.

There was a huge difference between frustratingly slow dial-up to broadband, but the next step from 3G to 4G won't be so great in terms of the end-user experience.

True, download speeds for movies, etc, will be faster, but as I said before, surely there will be more uses for UFB/4G than this?

Like many, I use mobile internet, using internet sticks from Vodafone and 2degrees, and the speeds certainly seem faster and more reliable than a couple of years ago. 3G is bound to be adequate for many or most as it has become for me. So what is the business case for 4G?

I spoke to Chris Quin, CEO of Telecom Retail, at the launch yesterday, and he too mentioned the faster downloading (consumers seeking instant downloads), but he also raised the issue of better connectivity for remote workers who would be able to link into office systems more easily, especially if company data was stored in the cloud. This would deliver more efficiency and time savings, he said.

A Telecom staffer nearby also said that there could well be uses we haven't thought of already.

It does seem a bit of a stab in the dark.

But thanks to the already improved reliability and speeds of 3G, we are seeing an "explosion" of demand for data, Mr Quin said at the launch.

I guess as these improvements progress, mobile broadband becoming faster and cheaper, we might well see the "need" for 4G that Telecom and so many other telcos say exists or will exist. Why else would they be wanting to spend or invest so much of their money developing these systems?

At least by having such an extended trial, with 100 businesses taking part, Telecom will soon learn how effective and useful 4G will be for business.

The telco is to be commended for such a trial, as what it learns will help it spread its new 4G gospel, share clear end-user experiences, and help overcome sceptics like me and, in time, perhaps the bulk of the New Zealand populace.