The Need for Speed: 4G Networks
Every time Andy Abramson goes to Las Vegas, he rents several 4G USB adapters for himself and his team. Abramson is CEO of communications agency Comunicano and author of the blog Working Anywhere. "I can go just about anywhere in Las Vegas and be connected," he says. "We supplied 4G modems to clients at the Consumer Electronics Show, and they were able to host demos in hotel suites, on the show floor, and even in coffee shops and restaurants where they were having meetings. I've made video calls, voice calls, and even sent files over 4G while in the back seat of taxi cabs. It really helps me stay connected."
At a recent technology show, he adds, he also rented a USB device for his wife, who was along for the trip. "She's a physician, so this allows her to access patient files through a secure network," he says.
Renting the USB adapters actually saves money, he says. "It's a big savings over hotel bandwidth, and I can go just about anywhere in Las Vegas and be connected. Plus, not everywhere is a hot spot. This gives you a hot spot wherever you go. Most people I know are cutting the cord and going WiFi or 4G."
Today Las Vegas, tomorrow, the world. The nation's largest mobile carriers will be rolling out 4G wireless connections to major markets as quickly as they can. Currently, Sprint is the only carrier with 4G already available, though even such large cities as New York don't have it yet. But Verizon plans to provide 4G coverage in 30 U.S. cities by the end of 2010. And AT&T says it will begin rolling out its own 4G network in 2011.
Just how fast is 4G?
4G wireless is up to 10 times faster than the 3G technology currently in widespread use, according to Sprint's advertising. "Theoretically, it can download up to 100 megabits per second, but that's in lab testing, not in the real world," says Soumen Ganguly, principal at Altman Vilandrie & Company. Still, even in the real world, 4G is very noticeably faster than 3G.
"If I'm getting mail from my server, with 4G it takes micro-seconds. With 3G, it could take 5 to 10 seconds to download the same email," Abramson says. In general, he adds, though service providers may claim faster speeds, most 3G transmissions are in the 1 megabyte per second range. "With 4G, I'm getting speeds that are three to four times faster, he reports.
Pricing for 4G has thus far been comparable to that for 3G connections, but that may be about to change, Ganguly says. "The way pricing will play out is a wild card. Some carriers have been signaling that with the move to 4G, there will be fewer unlimited data plans, and a move toward tier plans based on levels of usage."
Can your company benefit?
Will 4G's higher speed make a real difference to your company? It might, especially if any of the following applies to you:
You're a very small company with a highly mobile work force. Some companies that fit this description have eliminated land line phones in favor of mobile phones, and now they may do the same with their Internet connection. "It can replace broadband for a very small shop," Ganguly says. For some small businesses it might make sense to have every laptop enabled with 4G, or to use a card that broadcasts wireless Internet to up to five devices, such as the MiFi or Overdrive, he adds. (Needless to say, this only makes sense if your company's website and any ebusiness or other essential Web-based functions are hosted elsewhere.)
You work in construction or other industries where it's useful to stream video from field locations. "With live video from a construction site, you can communicate better with a central office and make decisions on the spot," notes Ron Mudry, CEO of Tower Cloud, a company that is building part of the infrastructure for 3G service. "Another use would be for a real estate agent who could stream video of a property to potential buyers," he says. Keep in mind, though, that 4G is slower than WiFi, and probably not appropriate for the transfer of large files, such as construction blueprints.
You don't want to be dependent on hotspots. How many times have you tried to log in to a wireless hotspot at a hotel or café, only to find that there's a structure blocking the signal to your spot. Or that the password you were given doesn't work. Or that, once you connect, your signal is much slower than you expected because everyone around you is using it as well. "We made sure or clients had the 4G adapters when they went onstage to do demos," Abramson says. Yes, the hotel or exhibit hall probably can provide a wireless connection. The problem is, it might get overloaded. "Counting on the venue's bandwidth can be a bad during a big event," Abramson says. "It's less reliable because thousands of people are using it."
MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap
Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.