Is it time for a 4G reality check?

Sue Marek
The 4G battle is on and operators are racing to secure the largest 4G footprint in the fastest possible time frame. Mobile WiMAX operator Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) has deployed its network in more than 100 markets (and it shares that network with a bevy of wholesale partners including Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), Time Warner, Comcast and others). In addition, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has commercially launched around 40 LTE markets so far.

Meanwhile, Tier 2 operator MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) is carving out a 4G niche with a handful of LTE market deployments and an interesting business model. Tier 1 operator AT&T (NYSE:T) is aggressively moving ahead with HSPA+ and planning for a mid-2011 LTE deployment. T-Mobile USA is painting its HSPA+ network (which it is in the midst of upgrading from HSPA+ 21 to HSPA+ 42) as 4G because it offers 4G-like speeds. And finally, new entrant LightSquared is promising to stir up the pot with its wholesale LTE network, which it plans to start deploying this year.

Thus, 4G is no longer a possibility but a reality. But it also is becoming a source of confusion for consumers as they try to figure out what 4G is and why they should upgrade to this service. According to a Yankee Group study released late last year, nearly three-fourths of respondents said they do not know or understand what 4G is. Further, more than 50 percent of consumers still don't know what 3G is.

In our latest ebook, "Path to 4G: is it time for a 4G reality check," FierceWireless delves into many aspects of 4G--from the backhaul to the end-user devices to the challenges facing rural operators. We also talked with Thomas Keys, COO of MetroPCS, about his company's aggressive plans for LTE, including Voice over LTE. Be sure to check out all the articles here. --Sue