Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cell Phone Wireless Broadband

If you are only using a cell phone to talk, you're missing half the capability of the cellular networks. What started as a mobile voice network is now both a voice and data network. Not just text data, but wireless broadband Internet access that rivals fixed DSL and Cable broadband offerings.

What's available in mobile Internet service today? If you haven't used this capability or been following industry developments, you may be surprised by how available and how fast cell phone wireless Internet access has become. There are two rival systems in use today, with two more even faster networks starting the build-out phase.

AT&T has championed their HSDPA and EDGE networks, with the most talked-about implementation being the Apple iPhone. The original iPhone runs on EDGE, with broadband speeds around 100 Kbps. That's at least twice what you'd get with dial-up, but modest by broadband standards.

The new iPhone 3GS runs on the HSDPA or High Speed Download Packet Access network. That jumps the download speed up to a maximum of 3.6 Mbps, with typical user speeds around 500 to 700 Kbps. That's more what you'd expect in basic broadband service and enough to enable fast Web browsing and video downloads. Right now AT&T is upgrading its network to a faster technology called HSPA which should double your access speeds.

T-Mobile uses the same technologies for voice and data as AT&T. Both are worldwide carriers based on GSM service that is popular internationally.

Verizon and Sprint are CDMA rather than GSM carriers. That means they use a completely different technology. On the data side this is called EVDO for EVolution Data Optimized. EVDO is highly competitive with HSDPA, with a basic Rev 0 speed offering bursts of up to 2.1 Mbps on downloads and a typical speed of 400 to 700 Kbps. EVDO Rev A takes that up to 3.1 Mbps download bursts, although typical speeds are only modestly improved to around 800 Kbps. What Rev A really does is improve upload speeds to 300 to 400 Kbps.

As you can see, the 3G networks for the major cellular carriers give you similar performance. Your choice probably will revolve more around the coverage available in your area and the particular model of phone, aircard or netbook that you choose.

What's even more interesting is the 4G wireless broadband in the development and early deployment phase right now. Sprint has partnered with Clearwire to create a new service called WiMAX that will run on completely different frequencies. AT&T and Verizon are working to develop a competing technology called LTE, or Long Term Evolution, that will also use different frequencies than are being used for cellular service now. That means that 3G and 4G networks will co-exist, at least for awhile.

How fast will 4G be? They'll start out about 10x as fast as 3G and go up from there as the technology is refined and deployed everywhere. The 4G wireless networks will be the equal of faster wireline broadband services today and will easily support services such as real-time two-way video.

While 4G is the coming thing, 3G is the hot mobile broadband service readily available today. Discover the wide variety of cell phones, smartphones, wireless modem aircards and netbook computers available with cell phone wireless broadband, often free or at very attractive discounts.

Follow Telexplainer on Twitter