Mobile
Commentary
5/25/2010
12:06 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
Commentary
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Just How Fast Are 4G Phones?

4G networks are just beginning to roll out and hardware is hitting the shelves. Are these devices as fast as advertised, or will we be somewhat under whelmed at their speeds?

4G networks are just beginning to roll out and hardware is hitting the shelves. Are these devices as fast as advertised, or will we be somewhat under whelmed at their speeds?The exact upper limit of 4G services is a bit hard to pin down. Part of the problem is the term "4G" doesn't refer to one technology, but several. Wikipedia lists three; LTE, WiMAX and UMB. LTE, which Wikipedia says technically isn't 4G at all, has a theoretical limit of 100Mbit per second download speed and 50Mbit/s upload. WiMAX claims a 128Mbit/s download and 56Mbit/s upload and UMB boasts a 275Mbit/s download and 75Mbit/s upload speed.

What can you really expect though? Last week Walt Mossberg reviewed the new Android based HTC EVO 4G on Sprint's WiMAX network. He only achieved 3.6Mbit/s download speeds, well short of what WiMAX is capable of. Upload speeds were even worse as Sprint caps them at 1Mbps.

Not only that, 4G radios are apparently power hungry, which makes sense. He wasn't able to get a full day of usage out of the phone with 4G turned on. In fact, Sprint recommends you turn of 4G when you don't think you need it.

Isn't that what computers are for? Shouldn't it know when it is maxing out its 3G capabilities and turn on the 4G radio to boost its bandwidth?

Like any other cutting edge technology, if you buy into it now, you get bragging rights and some additional performance gains over last years tech, but it sounds like 4G has a bit more maturation to go through before it makes sense for most people.

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