4G Wireless: 20 Questions Asked & Answered

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Ten More Questions

11. Why doesn't the iPhone come in a 4G version?

Since Apple sells the iPhone in the United States under an exclusive contract with AT&T, it has manufactured the phone with chips that connect to AT&T's 3G cellular network. Many people hope that Verizon, which has more-immediate 4G plans for its network than AT&T does, will begin selling a CDMA version of the iPhone later this year.

12. Can I use 4G while I'm on the road, as with a cell phone?

Yes. The whole idea behind 4G is that it's not just broadband, but mobile broadband.

13. Can I use 4G services in different cities, similarly to roaming with a cell phone?

Yes, sort of. Roaming is supported between different cities covered by the same service, so a Clearwire or Sprint device you buy in Portland should work fine in Las Vegas or Chicago. LTE proponents say that they will support cross-provider roaming, but we'll have to wait a couple years to see whether that works. And while chip vendors have announced silicon that could link to either a WiMax or an LTE network, no as-yet-announced device can accomplish that trick.

14. Will 4G be offered in rural communities?

Smaller providers such as DigitalBridge Communications--which has services in Jackson Hole, Wyoming--already offer mobile WiMax similar to Clearwire's. A company called Open Range Communications has just started offering WiMax services in rural Colorado, and it plans to cover more than 500 rural communities over the next several years.

15. Can 4G services replace my home DSL or cable modem?

Yes, unless you're looking for extra-high-speed services for extremely demanding broadband usage. Clearwire's WiMax service already offers faster speeds than the lower-end DSL plans, and it can match some cable modem offerings. For users who want both home and mobile service, WiMax 4G may be a better deal than the combined price of a stationary service and a 3G data plan.

16. What is a portable Wi-Fi router, and how does it use 4G?

Clearwire and Sprint sell two versions of a portable Wi-Fi/WiMax router, which uses a link to WiMax on the back end to support a "personal hotspot" capable of broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal that several devices can share. Sprint's forthcoming HTC EVO 4G phone will be able to act as a portable router, too, sharing its WiMax connection with up to eight other devices via Wi-Fi.

17. I've been hearing recently about "HSPA+" or "3.5G" service. What is it?

T-Mobile USA is in the process of launching a mobile data network based on a more-advanced version of the 3G protocols in use today. Theoretically the network can support speeds of up to 21 mbps, but in tests so far it is only marginally faster than most 3G data services. T-Mobile hopes to have the service available in 100 U.S. cities by the end of 2010.

18. Why do some people say that current 4G services are not "true" 4G?

Standards bodies have set higher speed goals for what they would like to define as "official" 4G services, performance marks that likely won't be met for another couple years at the earliest. But marketers think that what's available now is a big enough leap to justify the "next-generation" label--and they're the ones who buy the ads.

19. Will "real" 4G services ever be available?

Both WiMax and LTE backers are working on versions of the technology that will support "true" 4G speeds of more than 100 mbps for downloads, but real products using those versions probably won't appear for several years.

20. When will this great service be available in my town?

It all depends on when providers decide that your metro area is worthy! Clearwire and Sprint both have interactive maps on their Websites showing where and when services are likely to be available. Verizon is expected to announce its first LTE cities later this summer or early next fall.

Paul Kapustka is editor and founder of Sidecut Reports, an independent research firm that specializes in wireless technologies.

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