Friday, October 31, 2008

Mobile Broadband Faster Than Optical?

The holy grail of broadband is fiber optic transmission, with it's potentially limitless bandwidth. In practical applications such as FTTH, that backbone bandwidth is divvied up as it is delivered to homes and businesses on passive optical networks. Verizon FiOS, the leader in FTTH, now offers up to 50 Mbps download with 20 Mbps upload in selected areas. That's nearly an order of magnitude above most Cable broadband and DSL, and way beyond the capability of mobile broadband. Or is it?

According to a recent report, cell phone manufacturer Ericsson has tested LTE mobile broadband technology to peak speeds of 130 Mbps with growth possibilities to 260 Mbps. Wow! Wireless broadband in the hundreds of Megabits per second. Where do I sign up?

Well, not so fast. When they say that LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, they mean it. LTE is the 4G or fourth generation wireless data standard intended to replace current technologies such as EDGE or HSDPA on GSM cellular networks. AT&T is a prime candidate and T-Mobile is likely to follow.

Ericsson's proof of concept testing used the maximum of 4 transmit streams received by 4 MIMO antennas over 10 MHz channels. MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) antenna technology improves wireless performance when there is interference present, as there will be in any mobile situation, especially in metro areas. By doubling the channel bandwidth to 20 Mbps, the transmission rate could peak near 300 Mbps.

So what would you do with 130 Mbps, much less 260 Mbps? It seems unlikely that you'll need this capability for text messaging or even Web browsing. Think high definition TV or HDTV video conferencing. Business users will be able to download massive files while on the road and easily run applications remotely. Plus, who knows what the future will bring? So far, technology development has shown that we can quickly find uses for any amount of processor speed, memory, hard drive capability or bandwidth that is offered. It isn't necessarily what you're doing now, but what you might do tomorrow that counts.

Tomorrow is where LTE is targeted. Remember that AT&T has just started offering the 3G iPhone running on its HSDPA network. They're going to need some breathing time before getting their tower sites upgraded to LTE. But not too much breathing time. Sprint's WiMAX is out to capture the early lead in 4G with its Xohm WiMAX network that has just started operations in Baltimore. Ericsson expects LTE to start becoming available in the latter part of next year.

Even so, it will be some time before the 4G networks will be offering 100 Mbps bandwidth to their customers. Right now, affordable 3G technology is available in the 1 to 3 Mbps range using plug-in aircards for laptop computers and built into selected mobile phones. Check out the complete selection of current offerings at Cell Phone Plans Finder now.

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