If 4G Is Here, Can 4G (In Your City) Be Far Behind?

Aug. 17, 2010
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If your city is covered by Sprint’s 4G network, then you have an opportunity to access to the fastest wireless broadband network in the U.S. Last month, Sprint announced coverage in 48 metropolitan areas. If your hometown isn’t one of them, don’t despair. It’s on the way.

In the meantime, you can still take advantage of this broadband phenomenon if you visit a convention-friendly city such as Las Vegas. Of course, you’ll need a Sprint 4G phone or other 4G device to access the network.

I’d love a 4G smart phone, but I’m more excited about 4G devices like USB modems and hotspots. I’ve been connecting to the 3G network for a couple of years now via a Verizon 3G USB stick inserted into my notebook or netbook. This has worked fine for me, but the connection is rather slow.

For example, download speeds aren’t fast enough to stream videos from the Internet, and checking e-mail with Microsoft Outlook is an arduous process. But I no longer have to pay $12 per day or so for Internet access in hotels when I travel, which is sometimes as slow or slower than a 3G modem.

Mobile Hotspots
I really like the idea of mobile hotspots such as the Sierra Wireless Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot (see the figure). With it, users can create a 4G hotspot at home or on the road. Up to five portable devices can connect to it via Wi-Fi. The regular price of the Overdrive is $349.99, but with discounts it’s just $99.99, based on a two-year contract commitment of $59.99.

What’s the benefit of a device like this? I can think of at least one. A 4G hotspot could help our Engineering TV team. Curtis Ellzey, one of our cameramen, often complains that hotel Internet connections are too slow to upload large video files in a reasonable amount of time. Even when he compresses the files, the transfer can take a while.

Our goal has always been to upload the completed video to EngineeringTV.com as quickly as possible. Yet the slow connection speeds in hotels have been a real stumbling block for us. Basically, we’re transferring the content to an FTP site, where other team members can access it. We could save some time by posting the raw video straight to the Internet, like you might see on YouTube. But we prefer to send the footage to our video editing team first, so our reports are as interesting and as polished as they can be.

The Overdrive and products like it should make slow connections a thing of the past. In particular, we’ve had problems getting decent broadband connections in Las Vegas, which is home to the Consumer Electronics Show and many other industry trade events. We shoot a lot of video there, so it’s good to know that 4G has arrived.

As you may know, the Sprint 4G solution is based on WiMAX. Sprint is the majority shareholder of Clearwire, the independent company that is building the WiMAX network. The service initially rolled out in Baltimore in the fall of 2008.

Matt Carter, president of 4G at Sprint, says the company will launch service in Boston, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles later this year. Not to be outdone, Verizon Wireless and AT&T plan to roll out Long-Term Evolution (LTE), a WiMAX competitor, late this year or early next year.

Clearwire is not limited to the WiMAX network. Last month, it announced plans to begin testing both frequency-division LTE and time-division LTE in Phoenix in the fall. The company hopes to demonstrate real-world download speeds in the 20- to 70-Mbits/s range. Other LTE providers are quoting figures in the 5- to 12-Mbit/s range, while WiMAX download speeds are typically stated at 3 to 6 Mbits/s and 3G at 600 kbits/s.

Beceem Communications, which has been a leader in the WiMAX chip space, announced its BCS500 back in February at Mobile World Congress. The chip integrates 4G LTE and WiMAX technologies.

“Our BCS500 will end the 4G debate by connecting to any 4G LTE or WiMAX network with seamless roaming and switching between TDD (time division duplex) and FDD (frequency division duplex) configuration as needed, freeing operators from concerns about how best to utilize their available spectrum assets,” said Lars Johnson, VP of marketing at Beceem.

4G has been a long time coming, but it will become a pervasive and welcome addition to our broadband choices in the coming years.

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