It's a Mad, Mad 4G World at CES 2011

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At a private dinner here in Las Vegas last night, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse pointed out that in recent memory CES wasn't about wireless technology at all. RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis added that he recalls the days when the wireless part of CES was contained in one little tent at the back of the exhibit hall, and everybody in there knew each other.

How things have changed.

Now, one of the biggest stories here at CES 2011--if not the biggest story--concerns the race among wireless carriers and their device-maker partners to roll out as many devices as possible that connect to the carriers' new, fast, 4G wireless broadband networks.

By the looks of the product lineups, 2011 seems poised to be the year that the tech-buying public becomes aware of what 4G is, and why it's important to the performance of their device that it be connected to such a network.

Some people I spoke with here claim that the general population doesn't yet know (or care) what "4G" means. But I think that's changing--and fast. In the same way that a Verizon advertising blitz helped make Android a household name, wireless carriers and gadget makers alike have helped to make "4G" a familiar term. The public at large may not know what it means in a technical way, but they do know that it connotes "new," "fast," and "desirable." The term has meaning and cachet now, and that will only increase.

The major wireless carriers here all made big splashes around 4G devices, seemingly trying to outdo one another with the number of 4G devices that will become part of their product portfolios this year.


Counting the products it announced here at CES, Sprint now has 17 4G (WiMax) devices in its portfolio. Sprint was the first carrier in the United States to begin selling true 4G devices, starting with some USB modems and then adding the HTC EVO 4G and Samsung Epic 4G. Here at CES Sprint announced a new 4G phone--the HTC EVO Shift--as well as a new 4G WiMax Wi-Fi mobile hotspot made by Novatel Wireless.

Tablets are an important part of the carriers' 4G lineups, too, and Sprint said here yesterday that it will begin selling RIM's much-hyped PlayBook tablet--with a WiMax radio inside--beginning this summer. In addition, though Sprint currently sells a 3G-connected Samsung Galaxy Tab, a WiMax-capable version will likely show up soon.


Motorola Xoom
Motorola Xoom
Verizon, which turned on its 4G LTE network in early December, announced ten new 4G LTE-capable devices to go along with the two LTE USB modems it already sells. Chief among the new devices are the Droid Bionic from Motorola, the LG Revolution, and the Thunderbolt from HTC.

On the tablet side, Verizon announced that it will sell the new Xoom tablet from Motorola, as well as a 4G-capable Galaxy Tab from Samsung. Also new to the Verizon 4G lineup are two new mobile-hotspot devices, the Samsung LTE Mobile Hotspot and a 4G LTE version of the MiFi mobile hotspot.

Next page: What does 4G mean to T-Mobile and AT&T?

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