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Faster, Far-Flung Connectivity

With broadband connections and Internet-enabled cell phones becoming commonplace, what's next? Even faster connections.

In late 2007, Sprint/Nextel will roll out mobile WiMax service (a high-speed wireless technology) in test markets, with the goal of serving as many as 100 million people in 2008. The "4G" service, which will coexist with the company's current 3G cellular network, will provide 2-megabits-per-second to 4-mbps downstream speed, with 500 kilobits per second to 1 mbps upstream. Peter Cannistra, director of broadband strategy and planning for Sprint/Nextel, says that the 4G network will be faster than any previous mobile service, and that its speed may be sufficient for use both on the road and at home.

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To start, the service will work only with hybrid cellular/WiMax handsets and laptops, but Cannistra predicts that WiMax chip sets will become standard equipment in all manner of devices, including desktop computers, routers, and MP3 players. "It'll just be there, like Wi-Fi today, or like 56-kbps modems were in the past," he says.

Initially, your phone calls will probably still travel on the provider's existing cellular network. Cannistra says Sprint/Nextel will continue to expand its existing 3G cellular data service (known as EvDO), which will work with certain applications and as a backup to the 4G service.

But for consumers who aren't always on the go and who want more speed, the big news is the fast growth of fiber-optic broadband service. Now available in 17 states, fiber-optic service from Verizon and others provides up to 50 mbps downstream and 5 mbps upstream--far faster than most cable and DSL offerings--and it's going to become even faster.

"The new equipment we're installing, beginning at the end of the year, technically allows us to increase upstream speeds for FiOS by as much as eight times over what we do today, and increase downstream speeds up to four times what we offer today," says Verizon spokesperson Bobbi Henson.

Unfortunately, most cable and DSL providers seem focused on delivering content to subscribers, rather than enabling them to upload their own. Mitch Bowling, senior vice president and general manager of Comcast's online services, says, "We're aware of that dynamic starting to change," but Comcast's upload speeds are still stingy. Verizon's Henson says higher speeds for its DSL are in the works, but wouldn't say when.

Bowling did say that Comcast has begun rolling out service with 16-mbps downstream/1-mbps upstream speeds in a handful of competitive markets, such as Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Verizon offers fiber-optic service. He wouldn't say when other areas will get the upgrade, but pointed out that Comcast has increased speeds four times in three years, so it seems likely that more speed boosts will show up in the near future.

Special Report: Tomorrow's Technology

The Future of Your PC The Future of Robots
The Future of Cell Phones The Future of Privacy
The Future of the Web The Future of Nanotech
The Future of OSs The Future of You
The Future of Fun 100 Fearless Forecasts
Incredible Tech: Lies Ahead A Look Back
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