Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not All 4G Is Equal

Here comes 4G wireless. However, not all 4G is created equal. Sprint and their 4G partner Clear Wireless are sneaking across the country with their WIMAX version of broadband access. T-Mobile has started to roll out their “very fast” broadband which qualifies as 4G but they call “HSPA+” and are offering it in several markets.

The “gotcha” with the Sprint and T-Mobile networks is that they’re using the ultra high frequencies in the 2,500 MHz regions of the RF spectrum. Sprint and Clear also use 2,500 for uploads while T-Mobile uses 1,750 MHz. These are frequencies once thought to only be good for warming TV dinners.

There’s nothing wrong with these networks as they aren’t that much beyond the 1,900 MHz spectrum successfully used by PCS networks like Sprint, T-Mobile and others. The clouds on the horizon are being formed by the footsteps of the coming 700-pound gorilla, Verizon Wireless that pieced together a nearly coast to coast set of 700 MHz licenses. At that frequency, a carrier not only can offer broadband with higher power and superior propagation characteristics, they can do it with a lot fewer cell sites.

Fortunately, Verizon is not the only provider with rights to 700 MHz real estate, but they’re the only ones who can offer it nationwide right out of the gate. Sure, there’s nothing to prevent another communications provider with deep pockets piecing together another nationwide network, not anytime soon.

The non-700 MHz providers are trying to pre-empt this big 4G strike by setting up their connections early, and if they dance quickly enough, they may gain some loyalty. After all, data doesn’t need as high quality a connection as voice, but at 4G speeds, the more signal the better. If each provider packages their service and prices it right, we won’t care what frequency they’re using. But oh that 700 MHz signal…it’ll cover us like a big warm, fuzzy blanket.

1 comment:

CookieMonster said...

Yes, the 700MHz band will travel farther and propagate through walls better and that will certainly be an advantage in rural and exurban areas. In urban and suburban areas though, that advantage will be somewhat mitigated by the lack of bandwidth. Since each of those 700MHz cell sites can only support so many users because of the small bandwidth, it's not inconceivable that they (VZW, at&t) could wind up needing nearly as many sites in densely populated areas as Clearwire does with it's copious amount 2.5-2.6GHz spectrum.