Mobile Broadband Speed Trends: The Road to True 4G Speed is Here

With the surge in mobile technology and devices in the last two years, and considering the hundreds of tablets and smartphones released at the beginning of the year at the 2011 CES and CTIA conferences, changes are coming to the mobile broadband powering these devices. While all wireless communications companies are trending towards offering 4G services, not all 4G services are the same, nor do they even offer true 4G speeds. Considering that fact, let’s look at the evolution from 2g to 4G mobile broadband and where mobile broadband trends are leading consumers in the coming year. Mobile Speed Wars In the beginning, 3G speeds, did not exist, only “analog” cellular service that offered limited access to the Internet, later called 2G. Then came the push for faster mobile broadband and, when wireless communications companies caught wind that mobile broadband was catching on with consumers, the “mobile speed wars” began. Most of these wireless companies attempted to prove that their respective speeds and mobile services were better, faster. But alas… Evolution to 3G The ITU-R stepped in, deciding the next generation of mobile broadband speeds would be 3G, meaning that previous speeds, while they never had an official name, were to be called 2G. The new 3G services, known as “3GPP,” encompassed the networks called GSM, EDGE, GPRS, W-CDMA, CDMA, and LTE, as well as the newer LTE-Advanced in the U.S., UTRAN and UMTS in Europe, and FOMA in Japan, offering speeds 10 times faster than 2G. These services are part of the IMT-2000 ITU-R standard of mobile broadband speeds. LTE-Advanced was recently determined to be a part of the IMT-Advanced standard, and is considered by some as a 4G service, but more on that later. 3G services can see speeds of up to 7.2 MB/s down, and up to 1.8 MB/s up; however, many factors determine the actual speeds users experience in real-time. Evolution to 3.5G or “Fake 4G” In late 2009, wireless companies decided to offer 4G, but the ITU-R had not yet determined that any specific service had what it took to be an official 4G network. However, the ITU-R did say that a “true 4G network” should offer up to 100 MB/s down, at the very least, and the network would be called IMT-Advanced. That was when TeliaSonera began advertising the “new 4G services” the company “developed,” which, in reality, was only a 3.5G evolutionary network; it had only achieved 7.2 MB/s down. Later that year, other wireless companies did the same thing, offered evolutionary 3G and 3.5G technologies disguised as 4G, including Clear in 2009 and Sprint in 2010. Eventually, the companies bullied the ITU-R into changing the standards for 4G networks, or so it seemed, and now modern releases of LTE are considered 4G networks, even though they are not IMT-Advanced, or the designated LTE-Advanced. Currently, U.S. wireless providers offering alleged 4G services include Sprint and Clear with WiMAX, Verizon Wireless and AT T; with LTE, and T-Mobile with HSPA+, none of which come close to offering 100 MB/s as required by the ITU-R. The AT T;/T-Mobile Merger When AT T; announced its plans to merge with T-Mobile some people were surprised, some upset, and other ecstatic. Those who were upset were typically T-Mobile subscribers; they chose T-Mobile simply because they did not like AT T; to begin with. However, those that were ecstatic understood one thing, a true, unified 4G network can finally happen – and it will much faster than anticipated. When, and if, AT T; receives the FCC’s blessing to complete the merger with T-Mobile, the company will consume one of the largest wireless networks in the nation, not to mention the fastest, making its own network that much larger. The move will allow AT T; to not only to offer better overall service to a larger area, but also roll out its “4G” network faster and to more subscribers than originally planned, since AT T;’s 4G infrastructure was lacking, and T-Mobile initially did not plan to build out is 4G network until 2012. However, AT T; also has another trick up its sleeve. The company was the first to make an application to the ITU-R for an upcoming LTE-Advanced network it expected to roll out in 2012, which was supposed to be cleared for an official 4G designation by the end of 2011. Now with T-Mobile, AT T; will have the combined infrastructure to be able to roll out the service without having to shell out so much money and time, which was one of the main points to the merger. Looking to the Future So what should consumers expect to happen in the coming year? Well, with the recent trends in 4G compatible smartphones and tablet PCs arriving to the market offering powerful hardware to back up the compatibility, consumers can expect even more trickery with mobile broadband advertisements and speeds. Speeds will in fact become faster and more advanced, however, whatever is offered from now until AT T; finalizes its merger, it will still not be a 4G network those consumers are using. The current technology available simply cannot begin to go as fast as is required by a true 4G network, which is why the AT T;/T-Mobile merger is more than welcome by those who understand what it means. Between now and the end of 2011, AT T; will have taken steps to expand its network, consuming T-Mobile’s network. This will ready both networks for the combined power it will offer, including faster 3.5G, and, maybe, even faster speeds than that. While readying it for the finalization of the merger, consumers can expect better service overall, and if this trend continues, once the merger happens and AT T; gets the official “go ahead” from the ITU-R on its LTE-Advanced network, which will happen at about the same time, the combined company will essentially flip a switch and voila! True 4G is born. Here’s for hoping, anyway… Sources: Erick Schonfeld, “First 4G Mobile Network Launches…In Sweden,” TechCrunch Press Release, “AT T; to Acquire T-Mobile from Deutsche Telkom,” AT T; “CLEAR Home and On-the-Go Internet Plans,” Clear Wireless “4G LTE, America’s Fastest Wireless Network,” Verizon Wireless “4G Evolve Faster, Evolve Smarter, “AT T; “Turbocharge your Internet with 4G,” Sprint “What Really is a Third Generation (3G) Mobile Technology? (PDF)” ITU-R “All About the Technology: Cellular Standards for 1G and 2G,” ITU-R “All About the Technology: Cellular Standards for Third Generation: The ITU’s IMT-2000 family ,” ITU-R