Battle over fastest cell network heats up

December 28, 2010 6:29:41 PM PST
A battle among mobile phone carriers is heating up over the latest generation of high speed wireless known as 4G. But how fast is fast? And does everyone need it?

Wireless carriers are in high gear, promoting 4G as the speed you need for your smart phone. Sprint even took their campaign to the streets of San Jose to let the public test it. However, not everyone knows what 4G is.

4G is the fourth generation of broadband wireless -- allowing you to access video and data at high speeds that match what you can get over DSL at home.

"For things like movies, reading the newspaper, things like that. It'll be a lot faster," Sprint customer Dan Wilkowsky said.

However, each carrier is using different kinds of technology to deliver 4G speed.

"Each of them have their limitations based on the amount of bandwidth the carrier owns and how much data they can pass through their network," mobile communications consultant Kevin Morris said.

The 4G service U.S. carriers are offering is actually much slower than the standards set by the international body, known as ITU. The global standard is 100 megabits per second. On average, 4G speed by Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint is one-tenth of that.

"We're way behind at least the international standard of what we should be getting for 4G," technology analyst Larry Magid said.

And 4G speed doesn't solve the problem of dropped calls.

"Wireless by its very nature will always have some possibilities for dropped calls. But right now, Sprint thinks we have a pretty solid network, both 3G and 4G in the Bay Area," Sprint customer Kathleen Dunleavy said.

4G can also create a new issue -- battery drain.

"It really, really affects battery life, so even when I'm in a 4G area, I rarely turn it on because sucks all the power out of my battery," Magid said.


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