The Future of 4G: A Reality Check

sue marekFor the most part, the lines have been drawn. On one side there are the wireless carriers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone firmly committed to LTE and moving toward deployment. For now, Verizon leads the way with plans for around 30 commercial markets to be deployed in 2010.

On the other side you have greenfield carriers such as Clearwire, Digital Bridge and Open Range committed to mobile WiMAX. Clearwire, which is probably the most-recognizable U.S. WiMAX carrier, plans for more than 25 markets to be launched by year-end, reaching approximately 30 million people. In addition, the company expects to extend its coverage to 80 markets by the end of 2010.

Despite the rapid advances in the 4G race, there are many unanswered questions--how will these companies entice consumers to upgrade to 4G?

Perhaps Australian operator Telstra can offer some clues to what types of high-speed wireless applications will appeal to consumers. The carrier is in the process of upgrading to HSPA+ and will soon offer network speeds of up to 21 Mbps in urban areas.

Speed alone seems to be enough to attract many consumers. Telstra offers dongles and data cards, and has one of the most popular news portals in Australia. The company recently reported a 170-percent increase in portal traffic. In an interview with FierceWireless, Mike Wright, executive director of wireless engineering and operations at Telstra, said that mobile broadband access alone is a huge draw for both consumer and enterprise users. The company also sees lots of potential in enterprise applications such as telemetry and remote access.

Telstra does plan to eventually upgrade to LTE, but in the meantime the operator is making the most of its HSPA deployment. And Telstra isn't alone. Not all wireless operators will be able to upgrade to 4G until they have the necessary spectrum for an upgrade.

On the WiMAX front, Russia's Yota continues to push the envelope by offering interesting apps such as VoIP over WiMAX. The company announced earlier this month that it was going to start installing WiMAX Release 2.0 solutions from Samsung across its network by the end of 2010, predicting that the standard will provide higher performance than LTE. In addition, Yota said it will start offering WiMAX devices that can make VoIP calls and allow users to roam onto GSM networks when the user is out of range of the WiMAX network.

When it comes to 4G, the question is no longer what technology (most carriers have made their selection) but what applications will drive consumer usage--and how carriers will make the most of their 4G networks by upgrading the backhaul, fine-tuning their OSS and BSS systems and deploying femtocells and other indoor coverage solutions.

FierceWireless will delve into all these issues and more during its second annual "The Path to 4G: A Reality Check" virtual conference Oct. 28 starting at 9 a.m. EST. To view the entire agenda and register (attendance is free!), click here. --Sue