Verizon Wireless' super-fast 4G phone network: your new TV connection?

Verizon's new 4G LTE network is now live in Seattle. It's powerful enough to bring HDTV to your cell phone. Could it run your TV?

Verizon's new 4G LTE network is now live in Seattle. It's powerful enough to bring HDTV to your cell phone. Could it run your TV?

How exciting is it that Verizon Wireless has launched its super-fast 4G network service in Seattle?  Are you breathless with excitement yet?

That depends what type of user you are.  If that phone of yours is like a screw driver — it does what it does: makes and receives calls, allows texting and an occasional picture — this announcement is, well, (shrug).

If you own a laptop, or carry a smartphone, your heart may beat a little faster.  And if your laptop or smartphone is as important to your lifestyle as that first-in-the-morning Twitter check, or chocolate, then yeah, this announcement is, in a word, huge.

(To those of you who already have 4G service from Sprint or T-Mobile, both of which have provided service here for months, perhaps the announcement isn't quite so huge. But I digress.)

Last October, Verizon announced its plans to launch its 4G-LTE (Long Term Evolution) super-fast wireless phone network here in Seattle and in 37 other cities.  Some 60 airports are included in the upgrade including Sea-Tac. On Dec. 5, the network was turned on.

According to a Verizon press release, the network expects 4G LTE average data rates to be 5-12 megabits per second (Mbps) on the downlink and 2-5 Mbps on the uplink in real-world, loaded network environments.  These speeds are significantly faster than Verizon Wireless’ current 3G network. (Last October, I checked my Verizon 3G wireless service in Mukilteo: 1.92 Mbps.) The speed also means better uninterrupted coverage as you move from cell tower to cell tower and a higher quality video and audio delivery on your phone.

In fact, it's fast enough for you to be able to see movies in high definition on your cell phone (assuming your phone can handle a 4G transmission).

Recently, I went to Verizon Wireless’ Bellevue headquarters and tested the new 4G network on a company representative’s laptop. Using a standard Internet speed test, the new service gave me a download speed of 28 Mbps, and a download speed of 17 Mbps.  (Caveat: results vary for any speed test change from location to location, at different times, and the like).

What does that mean in real world terms? We opened three different websites, including Hulu, and put three high definition pictures on the screen simultaneously: “Desperate Housewives,” “Dr. Phil” and a movie trailer for “How Do You Know” starring Reese Witherspoon.  Every image was clear, no stuttering and the pictures were sharp.

For Verizon customers here, USB-based 4G computer modems are currently available; 4G-capable phones won’t be on the market until sometime in 2011.

The pricing plans will be different for 4G.  Many 3G wireless phone users currently enjoy unlimited data service.  That will change with the advent of 4G: Verizon is introducing a tiered coverage plan.  For 5 gigabytes of data, the cost will be $50 per month; for 8 gigabytes: $80 a month.  Every gigabyte of data over 8 gigabytes will cost $10.

I use my smart phone a fair amount, not only for phone calls and Internet browsing, but  also as a portable TV (through my Slingbox mobile service which retransmits my home cable signal to my phone) and as an Internet radio service.  Both use high amounts of data.  Over the last 12 months, I averaged a little less than 600 megabytes monthly and a one-month high of 1 gigabyte.  The 5 gigabyte per month plan, therefore, would offer me roughly 10 times as much data as I actually use.

Will the increased speed and better quality mean that I will be using more data to get the coverage I already have? No, says a network representative: “For the most part, data is data and there is no difference between quantity used via 3G and 4G connections — only a difference in the time it takes to download and play.”

Curious minds want to know: Could someone use this speedy 4G network for watching TV? Could you “cut the cord” to your cable system and instead hook up your computer?  At first blush, you might think this is an idea raised by that geeky kid of yours, but no less an august captain of industry as Verizon Communications Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg raised the issue, as quoted in a Wall Street Journal article. He told analysts during an investor conference that its next-generation wireless network could become a "modest substitute" for other home-entertainment services such as traditional cable or Internet access.

Crazy? If a 4G phone can handle that data stream, and if the new generation of cell phones offer the same optional “hot spot” capability as today’s 3G phones — which turns your phone into a WiFi access point — then there’s no technological reason why the “modest substitute” Seidenberg talks about couldn’t become a reality in your home.

But there would be a data cost of gi-normous proportions. How much would a single-hour HDTV TV show “cost” you in data?  And how fast would you chew through those 5 gigabytes or 8 gigabytes monthly allotment?

Isn’t the future fun?


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