Greetings from sunny and hot Florida!  While reading the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday morning my mother stumbled across an article titled What You Should Know About 4G by Peter Svensson of the Associated Press.  In the article he states that carriers such Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon are promising faster speeds through “4G” technology and that consumes should not jump on the bandwagon yet.  Here is my take on the 4G hype and why I will be waiting a couple years before moving to the technology.
Before I get into why I am holding off, we should look at the technologies involved.  There are currently two standards competing for market share and speeds: LTE and WiMax.

LTE is short for “Long Term Evolution” and is a mobile radio technology that uses the 700MHz frequency band to deliver high speed data.  For most users, this translates to pooling together anywhere from 25-30 cable or dsl modems.  In other words they will see faster uploads and downloads.  AT&T and Verizon have decided to use this technology in the United States and it is also being used abroad.

Mobile WiMax stands for “Wired Interoperability for Microwave Access” and, like LTE, is a technology that provides high speed data using the 700MHz frequency band.  To re-use the cable/dsl modem analogy above, the average broadband user would have to pool 12-15 together to get the same speeds.  Clear and Sprint Nextel utilize this technology on their networks today.

Both the LTE and Mobile WiMax standards are expected to be upgraded to higher speeds that are comparable to each other so eventually the theoretical speed contest will be a wash and we will have to see what happens in the real world.  To muddy the waters even further, AT&T and T-Mobile are in the process of upgrading their current networks to higher speeds that, according to Svensson and others will surpass LTE and Mobile WiMax in real-world situations.

What does this all mean to the customer?  The positive side is that if you tether your computer to your phone to get internet access like many corporate Blackberry (and Android) users do, you will definitely see faster access.  But, those utilizing mobile phones to access location based services or browse the web may notice less of a difference until devices with faster processors are released.  The downside is that the technology is still in its infancy, and you may pay a “penalty” for being an early adopter.  In a recent test conducted in the Chicago area, the Mobile WiMax network operated by Clear and marketed under the Sprint Nextel worked well while stationary.  Speeds were about four times as fast as Sprint’s 3G technology once we found a sweet spot in the office.  On a Metra train however, the USB data card kept dropping out of 4G and not negotiating with the 3G network.  This caused loss of data connectivity, making the service unusable.  This could be a “bug” in the firmware of the USB data card, and admittedly, I did not have time to see if any upgrades were available.

Because the “standards wars” are just heating up and the networks are still being built, I am holding off for a couple of years before really clamoring for a 4G device.  While I love technology and want a device that will provide WiFi access to the “4G” speeds, I am hoping that one of these standards will have better coverage or that devices will be introduced that can work on both LTE and WiMax because, just like in the 3G world, an LTE device will not work on a WiMax network, and visa versa.

How about you?  Will you jump on the bandwagon early?

Looking for a new cell phone or accessories?  Click here.