It's been nearly 10 years since British mobile users were first turned on to 3G - setting the scene, and the speeds, for today's smartphones. But what can we expect when the flick is finally switched on 4G?
The race to provide the fourth-generation of mobile technology is now well underway, and when launched in late 2013, it will provide faster and more reliable internet connections on the move.
Without the data speeds offered by 3G, we'd never have today's feature-packed handsets such as the iPhone and Android devices, with their computer-style operating systems and best-selling apps.
However, it is hoped the benefits of 4G will inspire a wider mobile revolution when super fast fixed-line broadband speeds come to handsets. These speeds could be up to 20 times faster than 3G - meaning you could download a full music album in under a minute.
Britain though already lags behind the US, parts of Europe, India and the Far East when it comes to offering 4G – due to slow progress with the auction by UK mobile regulator Ofcom for the network space required to run it.
It recently said the auction will begin by the end of this year with the major networks, Everything Everywhere - the company behind Orange and T-Mobile - Vodafone and O2 now jockeying for position in their bid to be granted a licence.
The sell-off will see a 4G network that is 80% bigger than the airwaves dedicated to 3G when it was sold in 2000.
As part of the auction, Ofcom is also reserving network space for someone to compete with the three major operators in order to bring increased consumer choice and drive down charges. This could open the door for 3 or other newcomers such as BT and Virgin Media.
But experts say a final decision can't come soon enough and the road towards a 4G switch on will be full of tension and trouble as the networks go head-to-head.
Fred Huet, MD of Greenwich Consulting, said: "The attraction for consumers is clear. Unfortunately, the necessary infrastructure to support 4G is simply not ready in the UK.
"The fact the 4G spectrum auction is earmarked for the end of this year throws into stark contrast how far behind the curve we are. With five major mobile networks in Britain alone, finding an agreement that will leave each happy is proving to be nigh-on impossible.
"This is not just a matter of being able to download online video quicker or surf the mobile web faster – it is a question of economic growth and attracting investment, which means it should be a top-level priority for the business community just as much as the telecoms community."
Shaun Collins, of telecoms analyst's CCS Insight, added: "The UK continues to lag behind its European counterparts, which threatens its technological leadership. This contrasts with the UK’s traditional leadership position when it comes to new mobile technology.
"After all the controversy to date, operators now must now put their concerns to one side and get on with the auction process to ensure 4G is delivered as fast as practicably possible."
One main benefit of 4G is it should bring fast wireless mobile broadband to outlying areas of the country. Ofcom has set a condition that indoor provision will need to reach 98% of Britain by 2017, ensuring those who cannot receive fast fixed broadband can find a way out of the internet slow lane.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "The 4G auction has been designed to deliver the maximum possible benefit to consumers and citizens across the UK.
"As a direct result of the measures Ofcom is introducing, consumers will be able to surf the web, stream videos and download email attachments on their mobile device from almost every home in the UK."
The need for 4G is clear when you consider demand for mobile data in Western Europe will increase by more than 500% in the next five years thanks to apps and more speed-hungry streaming services for music and video.
There are two types of 4G technology - Mobile WiMAX and LTE (Long Term Evolution) – but it is expected in Britain, that operators will use LTE. This is the same standard used by the latest iPad to connect to 4G in America, but this won't work here as their networks run at different frequencies to those due to work in the UK.
Trials of 4G have already been successfully undertaken by O2 in London and by Everything Everywhere in Cumbria and Cornwall.
Everything Everywhere had asked Ofcom for permission to launch 4G early on its own existing network space but this has been challenged by rivals and a decision has not yet been made.
A spokesman for Everything Everywhere said: "Everything Everywhere is committed to bringing 4G to the UK this year. We are upgrading and investing £1.4million daily into our network to prepare for this."
A Vodafone spokesman added: "We believe a competitive market for the next generation of mobile internet services will bring substantial benefits to British consumers, businesses and the wider economy. We have run three trials in the UK over the last three years and the international team of engineers who launched Vodafone’s 4G network in Germany are already working closely with our own technical specialists."
And while Vodafone and O2 will both submit separate 4G bids, in June the pair announced plans to strengthen their partnership of sharing the phone masts that deliver network signals, if they are both successful in the auction. They pledge to deliver indoor 4G coverage to 98% of the UK population by 2015 rather than Ofcom's 2017 deadline.
Matthew Howett, of analysts Ovum, said: "Given the insatiable appetite for data from consumers in the UK, we can be quite certain that it will be a hotly contested auction with all players keen to ensure they get adequate spectrum to support further growth in demand.
"The timetable has always been highly ambitious and has attempted to achieve in a matter of months what took years for 3G."