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What Price 4G?

Nokia Siemens Networks has completed a proof of concept test for its Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile data technology, which promises data rates of up to 173 megabits per second. WiMax is already available in some parts of the world and offers up to 70 mbps.

Question is, which mobile devices are going to take advantage of these technologies? Leaving aside both LTE and WiMax as they are currently emerging, precious few devices use the current high speed mobile data networks. In fact very few carriers have even implemented the fadtest 3G technology, HSDPA, which can deliver up to 14.4 mbps peak.

The whole HSDPA community is made up of users of a handful of devices such as the very smartest smartphones and some laptops, whose owners have chosen a carrier network which supports the standard.

At full speed HSDPA should give similar performance to many home or office high speed internet connections, so would increasing the data rate actually increase the market for services?

My HTC TyTN cellphone, which is basically a mini computer with a 400 MHz processor, sometimes has difficulty handling Skype voice calls over 54mbps WiFi because the processor is working so hard. More tellingly it opens web pages as quickly over WiFi as it does over EDGE, which suggests that the performance limitation for current mobile devices is in the processing speed of the device rather than the data speed of the wireless network.

Problem is as processor speed increases, the heat generated and battery power needed becomes highly challenging for a mobile device. In fact like the TyTN, the recently released TyTN II also has a 400MHz processor and I’m not aware of a more powerful smartphone on the current market. So it is doubtful that smartphones will be able to take advantage of higher mobile data speeds in a hurry.

More likely, the slow but ongoing growth of the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) sector will be able to make better use of fast wireless networks. These run industry standard operating systems and are more able to integrate seamlessly with corporate networks.

UMPCs also have software readily available for handling data intensive on-demand multimedia applications such as high quality video and music streaming, which fast wireless networks will be able to support. However as a society we have not reached the stage where video streaming into homes replaces traditional TV delivery methods, let alone trying to achieve critical mass in the mobile community.

Some years ago the auctions for 3G bandwith were a bonanza. In an ideal world those 3G data networks such as HSDPA and their associated service offerings would be prevalent across the market by now to repay the investment. In reality implementation and consumer adoption has been slow. There may even have been an ultimate aim for 3G networks to compete with home broadband and cable providers; HSDPA is certainly fast enough in theory.

LTE and WiMax – call them components of ‘4G’ for now – should be even better placed than 3G HSDPA to enter the home and office market to compete with fixed line data connectivity providers.

However as auctions approach for the rights to the ‘4G’ bandwidth, will the carriers be confident enough to pay such a high price again?

Neil Berman

www.neilberman.com

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Dec 28, 2007 - Posted by | Mobile | , , ,

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