Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nine things you need to know about 4G networks by Howard Wolinsky

Posted by OurTech Team | Thursday, October 7, 2010 | Category: , |

Imagine having a mobile phone that matches what you can do on your home PC.

That’s the power of 4G - the term for fourth generation mobile service - which was rolled out by Sprint (S) earlier this year and will soon be available for Verizon (VZ) subscribers. Here are the most important things you need to know about 4G:

1. Sprint, the first mover in the 4G market, says its 4G is up to 10 times faster than 3G, which was introduced eight years ago. Sprint promises peak downloads of more than 10 Mbps (megabits per second), with average downloads of three to six Mbps. Verizon announced on October 6 that it plans in the fourth quarter to launch its 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network with downloads to range between 5 to 12 Mbps.

2. 4G speeds may vary. Sprint says that 4G can be 10 times faster than 3G. But read the fine print in Sprint’s promotional material: Sprint bases this claim on speed comparison between 3G’s low-end 600 kilobits per second (Kbps) vs. 4G’s max 6Mbps. Sprint notes that 3G can reach 1.7 Mbps, while 4G may drop down to 3 Mbps. So that’s less than twice as fast.

3. 4G will meet your need for speed. 4G will “turbo charge” your productivity and fun. Users are able to stream HDTV on their devices and attend videoconferences without lag time, according to Sprint.

4. Why is 4G faster? The secret is in the packets. Mark Sullivan in PCWorld notes: “4G technology differs from 3G service in that it handles all services -- voice, Internet access, etc. -- in the same way, as packets of data. 4G also uses different, and better, wireless spectrum than 3G service does, and is capable of providing far better speeds to far more people at the same time.”

5. 4G is more expensive. Sprint currently charges its customers with 4G-enabled devices an extra $10 per month, regardless of whether they can access a 4G network or not. With increased data usage and Verizon entering the fray, both networks are rumored to convert to “pay-as-you-go” pricing schemes rather than unlimited use packages. 4G devices will also invariably cost more - at least at first - than similar phones on the same networks.

6. 4G won’t be available everywhere initially. Sprint says its 4G network reaches more than 268 million people in 50 markets in the United States “and counting.” To see whether 4G is available in your hometown, go here.

Back in May, Sprint launched its first 4G phone, HTC EVO 4G, selling for $200 with a two-year contract. That phone runs on Google’s Android mobile operating system, and has access to nearly 100,000 Android apps.

Verizon says its 4G LTE network initially will cover 100 million people in 38 markets by the end of 2010. The first markets with access to Verizon’s 4G network include Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Below is a full coverage map for Verizon's 4G Network:

Current and would-be iPhone owners dissatisfied with AT&T's (T) network would of course love the rumors of an upcoming Verizon iPhone to be true.

7. Batteries take a hit on 4G. Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G can run out of battery power after only a few hours of use. While power can be conserved by switching off the 4G setting, the last thing you want to do with your new state-of-the-art smartphone is to slow it down. Extra battery packets which add to the weight of an already heavy phone can be purchased for about $100.

8. A 4G mobile hotspot can give a boost to your 3G phone. Sprint’s website displays a video showing how an iPhone user can find its 4G network and increase the iPhone’s speed. Take that AT&T. Sprint says the hotspot can work with up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices at time: a phone, a laptop, camera, a couple music players and so on. Sprint says the Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot by Sierra Wireless is the first dual-mode mobile hotspot on the market.

9. Sprint and Verizon are leading the way with 4G, but where’s the competition? They’re not snoozing. Kent German reported in CNET that AT&T will be busting a move into 4G next year. AT&T Operations CEO John Stankey says the company will light up its network with LTE service by the middle of 2011. He didn’t list cities, but he says AT&T is aiming to cover between 70 million and 75 million people by the end of 2011.

AT&T recently upgraded its 3G network. PCWorld’s tests showed that AT&T ‘s much criticized network has improved. AT&T upgraded with HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access) software, enabling it to deliver at speeds of 10 Mbps consistently, Sullivan reports. T-Mobile says it has its eye on LTE, though Eric Zeman in InformationWeek earlier this month questioned whether T-Mobile may be changing its strategy.

Meanwhile T-Mobile has been touting its HPSA+ upgrade. T-Mobile says the upgrade increases its network’s speed three to five times over 3G. T-Mobile describes its HSPA+ enhancement as a “super-fast mobile broadband network that delivers 4G speeds in the Northeastern U.S. and other major cities across the country.” The company says: “T-Mobile’s network currently delivers theoretical peak download speeds of 21 Mbps.” Again, read the fine print: “Typical real-world downlink and uplink speeds experienced by customers with upgraded 3G will be less than the theoretical peak and will vary based on a number of factors, including location, device, and overall traffic on the local wireless network at a given time.”

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