Wednesday, January 19, 2011

4G to replace cable and DSL?

4G. The next generation of wireless telecommunication. Carriers are in a mad rush to get new, faster tech radiating our airwaves, whether it means rolling out entirely new spectrum, namely LTE, or adding bolt-on tech like HSPA+ to GSM standards, which is debatable as to its branding as true 4G. Either way, in order to compete, consumers, aware of the the technology or not, want to hear "4G" next time they're due for a new phone.

However, amid the branding wars and eventual mass rollout by all carriers a version of 4G, I question it's usefulness and real impact for mobile phones, 4G's primary focus.

Let me explain.

Greater bandwidth in any case at any time is always a good thing. So, just as the competition is heating of for 4G, in the virtuous nature of capitalism, the carriers are pushing full-steam ahead here in the US for the fastest speeds they can manage. That way somebody can claim alpha-dog status and gain a bunch more customers. Hooray for all that.

The only issue I see with the whole thing is that everyone is touting 4G availablity solely as a faster network for your phone's data. I don't know about you, the amount of data I consume on my phone is but a pittance of the gigabytes upon gigabytes of data I consume on my home network.

I have an iPhone 4 and a contract with AT&T for my 3G data. But to be honest, the speeds I get with that, which can sometime get up to 3Mbps here on the outskirts in Atlanta, is entirely sufficient for any phone. That's plenty for streaming Netflix on the go, but almost everywhere else you'll use your smartphone probably has WiFi access. So, my question is, when is 4G, or later on, 5G, wireless data going to eventually replace my home broadband connection?

With WiMax, the idea is already there, except that is a data-only connection, meaning all voice calls mean VOIP, which is great, but there's no streamlined VOIP integration for cellphones quite yet. I assume because carriers make tons of money selling "minutes" and texting plans.

LTE and 4G technologies of the like should at some point be everyone's main broadband connections, both at-home and on the go, consolidating our telecom bills into one.

For the savvy tech user, maybe there are a few people that use 3G hotspots for all their data at home, but two problems exist there. For one, 3G is too slow for home use and external network devices are required, i.e. tethered cellphones, MiFi hotspots, or USB network dongles/adapters. And there lies the problem for at-home wireless access today: you have to pay for both the network modem or router for your home connection as well as the extra costs for a non-subsidized non-cellphone plan.

This may be pipe dream, but once LTE becomes widely available, I'd want a Verizon plan that allows me an iPhone 5 with 4G access along with a subsidized at-home router, effectively replacing my current setup of two bills, one for mobile 3G, the other for DSL.

Sounds good. Now let's just hope we can do all that with low latency and speeds around a consistent 5Mbps+.


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