Sprint has been aggressively promoting its expanding 4G wireless network at the CTIA show in Las Vegas this week. Verizon and AT&T are also pursuing 4G or LTE broadband, but Sprint--true to its name--is sprinting ahead to deliver 4G in more markets ahead of the competition.
Existing 3G wireless broadband is a quantum leap over 2G, but for businesses to rely on wireless broadband it needs to be significantly faster, and more consistently stable. Let's take a look at what 4G wireless broadband is supposed to deliver, and how 4G broadband can impact your business.
Current pilot tests and implementations of 4G networks offer broadband speeds significantly faster than existing 3G networks, but fall significantly short of the established goal. The technologies used today represent the first generation effort to achieve mobile broadband rates of 100 mbps, and stationary wireless broadband speeds reaching 1 gbps.
A Sprint press release declares "With 27 markets already equipped with 4G and more being planned for this year, Sprint is fulfilling its promise to light up major metropolitan areas with speeds that are up to 10 times faster than 3G."
The press release goes on to claim "And unlike "concepts" and "lab tests" from other wireless companies, Sprint is the first national wireless carrier to actually test, launch and market 4G technology."
Iyad Tarazi, VP of 4G Wimax network development for Sprint, took PCWorld's Mark Sullivan for a test drive of the Sprint 4G capabilities around Las Vegas. Sullivan witnessed consistent broadband download speeds of over 10mbps, but ran into some technical difficulties that showed less-than-stellar results for the upload speeds.
While it's a fraction of the projected 100mbps that the next-generation wireless broadband promises, Sprint's 4G network raises the bar so that customers can get wireless data speeds comparable to middle-ground wired broadband speeds, and allows businesses to expand the tasks and functions that are possible over a wireless network.
Sprint outlines some business scenarios that are made possible by the faster 4G broadband speeds:
• Real estate agents can conduct virtual property tours.
• Construction teams using 4G in the field can save valuable time by sharing schematics with engineers online.
• Insurance companies can speed their claims management through real-time communication with on-site adjusters.
• Health care professionals can improve their ability to remotely monitor patients.
• Emergency first responders can rapidly assess and coordinate disaster action with real-time on-site video and audio.
• Photojournalists can instantly transfer high-resolution images to the newsroom.
Those are just a few examples. Because the 4G wireless broadband is capable of speeds comparable to most wired broadband solutions today, it opens the possibility that businesses can consolidate services and drop wired broadband completely. Just as mobile phones have enabled many customers to eliminate the traditional land line, 4G wireless broadband will enable customers to eliminate the traditional broadband network.
That said, it is worth pointing out that wireless providers are already struggling to keep up with data demands, and the FCC is working aggressively to recapture wireless spectrum to head off an impending crisis of bandwidth. AT&T--sole purveyor of service for the Apple iPhone--has had a particularly difficult time keeping the speed and reliability of its 3G data network consistent.
The bottom line is that 4G wireless broadband promises to expand the scope of what is possible over remote, wireless data networks, but the technology is still nascent and the wireless bandwidth will probably fold quickly under the pressure if there is any sort of mass exodus to drop wired broadband in favor of 4G.