News reports of Ofcom’s recent changes to the 4G spectrum auction tended to focus on the potential winners and losers among mobile network operators, or on the extended capabilities and coverage promised by 4G.

The advent of 4G services will place enormous strains on legacy Internet Protocol (IP) networks and the benefits of 4G will not be fully realised unless these networks are prepared for the coming deluge of data.

The coming of 4G to the UK will represent a mobile revolution arguably even greater than the introduction of the first smart phones, as mobile users finally get download speeds and capabilities similar to their fixed-line Internet.

Most commentators have pointed out that these speeds and services would be impossible were it not for the ‘digital dividend’ from the shutdown of analogue broadcasting. What many people fail to realise, however, is that the colossal volumes of data that will result from 4G will cause serious problems for unprepared IP networks.

Without action to future-proof the underlying IT infrastructure the limitations of 3G, such as lack of bandwidth, will merely be shifted from the airwaves into the data centre.

This issue is compounded when one takes into account how users’ expectations have changed over the last few years. These days, users don’t just want Internet access – they demand a seamless, high availability service that conveys a great user experience.

Unless IT networks are prepared to handle the data deluge from millions of 4G devices, there will inevitably be bottlenecks and breakdowns, which will naturally affect the mobile service itself.

With 4G, our dependence on smartphones will only become more entrenched. But if users are to enjoy reliable, high performance media streaming or video calls, it’s vital that mobile network providers address vulnerabilities, chokepoints or outdated equipment in their IP network infrastructure.