The announcement last week by Verizon that it plans to launch its 4G wireless cell network in Seattle later this year — a new-technology market already offered here by Sprint and T-Mobile — is a good indication that the race to hook customers on wireless technology with speeds rivalling home and workplace WiFi networks will be intense.
AT&T Mobility, which currently has exclusive rights to the popular iPhone, reportedly will enter the 4G competition here in 2011.
With 4G (fourth generation) wireless technology on cell phones, tablets, or laptop computers, consumers have the download speeds and network capacity to handle live TV, high definition movies in real time, video conferencing, massive role player games or similar services.
The majority of today's smartphones such as the iPhone or Droid X support 3G service, providing roughly 1.5 to 2.5 megabits of data per second: sufficient for most Internet-related services. Every carrier differs on what constitutes the upper range of their 3G service, which is emblematic of the hot competition among the carriers even as they prepare for their 4G future.
The high-end speed numbers released by the carriers mean little for the average consumer in daily cellphone use: the speeds a user experiences are generally less than the theoretical maximum limits and vary depending on his or her location, device, network traffic, etc.
To verify actual 3G network speeds for this article, this writer tested his AT&T iPhone and his Verizon Droid X at a location near his home in Mukilteo where both phones registered 5 bars, or full-strength connectivity. I used the Speakeasy.com Internet speed test for the Verizon phone and the free Speedtest.net app from the iTunes store with the AT&T phone. The results showed that the AT&T/iPhone was receiving 2.5 mbs; the Verizon/Droid X received 1.92 mbs. These speeds have been sufficient for surfing the Internet, or even watching streaming movies and TV programs on my cell phones.
By contrast, 4G cell phone services generally deliver more than 10 megabits per second (mbs) at their upper range. Between 3.5 and 4.5 mbs is generally considered the threshold for streaming live HD movies for smooth, uninterrupted viewing; therefore, the data stream on your cell phone could match or in some cases exceed your home broadband service.
Two competing 4G network technologies are seeking market supremacy: LTE (Long Term Evolution), supported by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile; and WiMax, backed by Sprint and Kirkland-based Clearwire. (Clearwire is building out the WiMax network nationally for Sprint; Sprint is a majority owner in Clearwire.) Which technology is superior is still highly debatable, with LTE and WiMax advocates each proclaiming ultimate victory.
Verizon announced Oct. 6 that its 4G LTE service will be available in Seattle by year’s end, offering speeds from 5 to 12 mbs. Anticipated coverage will be roughly from Lynnwood on the north to Fife in the south; the Seattle waterfront on the west and Redmond and Issaquah to the east. Coverage will also be available in Auburn, Bellevue, Bothell, Burien, Covington, Des Moines, Edmonds, Federal Way, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Mill Creek, Renton, Sammamish, Sea-Tac, South Everett, Tukwila, and Woodinville.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will be included in the buildout. The service is also being launched nationwide in 38 cities and 60 commercial airports.
A Verizon spokesman noted that the first devices available will be USB modems and air card devices for laptops and similar devices. 4G smartphones will not be available until sometime in 2011; early 2011 was not anticipated as a delivery time.
Sprint has been offering 4G mobile service in Seattle since the fall of 2009, with 3 to 10 mbs speeds. The company currently offers two dual-network phones that receive both 4G and 3G network coverage, the Android-based HTC EVO and the Samsung Epic, and a variety of dual-network plug-in modems for other mobile devices including laptops.
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