Mobile Broadband Today

There’s good reason why many phones, tablets, and other mobile devices these days support a very non-mobile technology: Wi-Fi. In many parts of the U.S., as in many parts of the world, the 802.11b/g/n wireless networking standards simply offer better performance than nearby cell towers. Using Wi-Fi to tap into a business’s or home’s broadband Internet connection accelerates the downloads, uploads, streaming, and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) that smartphones and tablets can do so well-as long as they’re not constrained by outdated, congested 3G technology. Of course, the problem with Wi-Fi is the fact that your fast, local connection drops back to your wireless broadband plan as soon as you leave your company’s parking lot. If you’re still using 3G wireless broadband, you’re missing out on a lot of the capabilities that current mobile devices have to offer, such as video phoning. Looked at another way, there are resources being underused, and that could mean missed opportunities for your business. The placement for 3G is, as you might guess, 4G. Short for fourth generation, 4G is the name of a collection of faster wireless standards for mobile broadband. It’s also a catchier name than IMT-Advanced (International Mobile Telecommunications-Advanced), which is the global network concept being developed by the ITU-R (International Telecommunication Union-Radiocommunication; IMT-Advanced/4G involves a variety of technologies meant to speed up data transmissions and make them more reliable, including MIMO (multiple input/ multiple output antennas), IP packet switching, and dynamic resource usage. There’s also support for IPv6 Internet addresses, as well as for seamless coverage as the user travels between different types of cell networks.

4G Today

Today, the major carriers advertise several wireless broadband technologies as “4G.” Depending on who’s doing the talking, 4G may be LTE (Long Term Evolution), WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access; 802.16), and/or HSPA+ (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access). Data rates average in the Mbps single digits, for the most part. Specifically, AT&T says that its HSPA+, an improvement on the 3G-era HSPA network technology, reaches 6Mbps. Sprint says that its WiMAX 4G system offers 3 to 6Mbps (megabits per second) speeds, while Verizon claims 5 to 12Mbps for its 4G LTE network. Finally, T-Mobile says that its 4G HSPA+ offering averages almost 10Mbps in download speeds with a 21Mbps peak transfer rate. Footnotes on the company’s site furthermore mention an augmented HSPA+ network with 42Mbps peak speeds in limited areas. These numbers are a far cry from the ITU-R’s initial goals for 4G, let alone the 128Mbps and 100Mbps theoretical maximums of current WiMAX and LTE technologies, respectively. Still, they’re definite improvements over the aging 3G, providing more speed and less latency. (Note that network speeds will drop when you’re moving quickly, such as in a car or on mass transit.)

Get It

In order to get 4G, you’ll need a phone, tablet, or other device that supports it. If your current phone or device is capable of using the 4G network of your current carrier, upgrading may be as easy as turning on the 4G radio in your phone’s settings. You might also have to run an update on your device for full compatibility. If your tablet, phone, or other device isn’t compatible with 4G—or at least the type of 4G offered in your area— you’ll need to change to a new mobile device. The easiest path here is to make the move to the one or device offered by your local 4G carrier of choice.


Future plans for 4G technology include a 1Gbps (gigabits per second) evolution of LTE called LTE Advanced, as well as a 1Gbps version of WiMAX called WirelessMAN-Advanced or 802.16m (WiMAX 2). For perspective, those are faster than the wired networks in many homes and businesses. It truly is an exciting time in mobile gadgetry.


Smart Computing | October 2011 p.27


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