Thursday, April 29, 2010

What is 4G and Why Do You Want It?

You see ads for 3G cell phones and wireless modem aircards. Now here comes 4G. What is this advance in technology all about and why should you want it now?

4G wireless broadband2G, 3G, 4G. All those G’s, what do they mean? What we’re talking about is a shorthand for the generations of wireless broadband service. It’s been advancing so fast that it’s not unusual for different generations of service to be available in the same area. That’s by design. If you are in a weak service area for 3G, then your device will automatically seek out a lower speed service such as 2.5G or 2G. You won’t get as high a bandwidth, but at least you’ll be connected.

Wireless broadband is generally a companion service to cellular telephone. It uses the same towers and base stations. Coverage areas are pretty much the same. The exception is when a particular tower site hasn’t yet been upgraded to the latest cellular broadband generation. In that case, you’ll get a lower level of service until you move into the coverage of a cell tower that is at the latest standard.

I should mention here that there are two wireless broadband services that have nothing to do with cell phones. One is the WISP or Wireless Internet Service Provider that offers home and business broadband. You need to be within line of site of their tower and install an outdoor antenna on your roof. These WISPs are pretty much locally owned an operated, and generally serve locations that aren’t wired for DSL or Cable.

The other non-cellular wireless service is the WiFi hotspot. There are so many of them, that they could almost form a cellular-like network of their own. That hasn’t happened because hotspots are also largely local services, mostly offered by restaurants and hotels. There’s no network to tie them together, so once you leave a hotspot you have to log into another one at your next stop.

That’s where 4G steps in. Imagine that you are connected to a 4G service and are reading a document while parked in your car. You can go into a client’s office or your own and you’ll still be on the same service. The idea of 4G is to blanket a city with a signal strong enough that you have high bandwidth connectivity without worrying about where you are located.

But doesn’t 3G do that? To some extent, yes. But 4G has the advantage of higher bandwidths. With the 4G service that is available today using the WiMAX standard, you can get 3 to 6 Mbps on a normal basis, with bursts of to 10 Mbps.

WiMAX 4G is also not limited to mobile service the way that 2G and 3G are. It’s designed for both desktop and mobile service. That puts this 4G network in a class by itself. You can get a WiMAX modem for your desktop computer and a plug-in 4G aircard for your laptop computer. You’ll have the same service at your desk as you do on the road. There are even 4G phones coming out sometime this summer that look to become a game changer in the wireless service industry.

There are two standards that will dominate 4G service. One is LTE which will be deployed later this year and through 2011. The other is WiMAX broadband that is available now in many cities and states. Find out if your location qualifies for 4G wireless broadband

Follow Telexplainer on Twitter