4G wireless--which operates at speeds up to 10 times greater than today's 3G networks--could become a reality for many businesses over the coming year. Sprint, the current 4G leader, says it will introduce its first 4G smartphone before mid-year.
Sprint introduced its 4G WiMAX network in 2008, but so far there have been no handsets to use on it. While the carrier has introduced non-phone devices, such as wireless cards, mobile hotspots, and USB modems for 4G, phones have waited as the network was built out.
That makes sense, considering the small footprint of Sprint's 4G network, which today reaches about 30 million people in 27 markets. By the end of the year, however, the addition of Houston, New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington will expand the footprint to include 120 million people.
Forbes reported Thursday night that Sprint's new 4G smartphone will launch during the "first half of 2010--a few months earlier than many expected."
Published reports suggest the handset will be dual mode, able to operate on both Sprint's 3G and 4G networks to provide coverage where 4G is not available. The phone will supposedly be made by HTC and be based upon Google's Android operating system.
While Sprint's 4G is built on WiMAX technology, Verizon has said it will introduce its 4G network later this year using a competing technology called LTE. AT&T is expected to launch its own LTE network sometime in 2011. T-Mobile is another LTE supporter, although some say excitement about the new standard should be restrained because of low availability this year.
No doubt Sprint's rush to deliver 4G ahead of its competitors explains its choice of network technology. WiMAX has been around for several years with little commercial adoption, and may be ripe for deployment by a major carrier. However, the decision to go with WiMAX over the more broadly supported LTE could ultimately hurt Sprint down the road.
The 4G transition is an important opening for the troubled carrier, which saw losses of both revenue and customers during the quarter just ended. Sprint has never quite recovered from its rocky 2005 acquisition of Nextel Communications. 4G gives the company an exciting story and the possibility of attracting large numbers of new customers.
Key to that will be an exciting smartphone lineup that takes full advantage of 4G bandwidth, up to 10mb/s, for interactive and content-based applications, such as on-demand video. Business will, as usual, ride along with the consumer apps, developing technologies like mobile telepresence and on-demand training for 4G handsets.
Beyond handsets, tablets and other data devices such as mobile hot spots, will allow businesses to create networks on-the-fly at field locations or as a standard part of service vehicles. 4G offers enough speed that multiple users can get good throughput simply using their own Wi-Fi connected to the wireless hotspot.