3G is Fast, 4G is a Lot Faster

Convergence Corner

3G is Fast, 4G is a Lot Faster

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  May 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

Back in the February issue, I suggested people considering switching to the Verizon iPhone (News - Alert) the moment it officially launched would be well served to ponder their options before making a decision. For the record, at one point, I was one of those people, simply because I couldn’t wait to get rid of my BlackBerry (News - Alert). Now, several weeks after becoming a proud owner of a brand new HTC Thunderbolt, I can do nothing but repeat that recommendation. 

Let me first make it clear that I’m not one to always run out to get the latest and greatest technologies, understanding well the risks of first-run products, compared to their second- and third-generation siblings.

That said, as I stated previously, the biggest flaw of the Verizon iPhone is “it’s a 3G device in a 4G world.” Apps are apps, and you’ll get them whether you go Android (News - Alert) or iOS. But, speed is another story, which is why I got the Thunderbolt when it launched, knowing I was heading out to Las Vegas – a 4G market – a few days later, and could try it out immediately.

I was not disappointed. The standard browser is blazing fast, opening even the busiest Web pages at least as quickly as my laptop. I could search for information in a fraction of the time it took others I was traveling with, whether looking for sports stats, reading news, finding places to eat, or confirming flight departure times. As for the apps, there’s nothing wrong with how quickly apps on 3G devices download and install but, with the Thunderbolt, I was running apps while 3G devices were still downloading them.

Perhaps the biggest test was at COMPTEL, when I activated the mobile hotpot capability so the TMC (News - Alert) team could connect to check e-mail, post articles, and browse the Internet. Again, the results were nothing short of amazing, with connectivity and transfer speeds putting 3G to shame (even when you discount the volume of 3G users typically on a 3G network at a tradeshow). “Amazing” and “blazing fast” were words my colleagues used to describe the connection. Furthermore, the only time the service was disrupted was when I answered phone calls, meaning there were no unexpected outages and, as soon as I disconnected from the call, the hotspot was automatically reactivated and connectivity was restored.

Needless to say, I was disappointed to have to head back to Connecticut, off Verizon’s existing 4G grid. In fact, I kept an eye on the phone as I passed from New York into Connecticut, just to see how far the LTE (News - Alert) signal would reach, praying against hope the coverage map was inaccurate. I was sent back into the mundane world of 3G, or so I thought.

As it turns out, the Thunderbolt itself, is far from mundane, still downloading and running apps and browsing the Web faster than your average mobile device.

A few days ago, however, I noticed the unmistakable 4G LTE icon on my connectivity bar. Could it be? 16mbps downstream and 25mbpsd upstream data speeds say it could. Verizon’s rollout plans indicate the area around TMC headquarters is planned for LTE rollout by the end of the year but, if these figures – and the corresponding speed of applications directly leveraging the data network – are any indication, trials are already under way. No, those speeds won’t hold up once the LTE network is in full production mode with thousands of users on the network, but it’s quite impressive, nonetheless.

But does it really matter? If all you want out of your mobile device is the ability to check e-mail and send and receive text messages, probably not. But, technology has an inherent persuasive nature to it and, particularly in this age of social sharing and multimedia content, speed and capacity can change the user experience. For instance, watching TMCnet Newsroom videos provides an experience very similar to watching on my laptop on a Wi-Fi connection, and a much improved experience compared to typical 3G network connections. I also decided to try something longer, like an episode of Body of Proof, with the same result. Of course, it’s not quite the same as watching on a big-screen TV, but for mobile use, it’s pretty darn good.

Want to check Facebook updates or Tweet the latest article you read on TMCnet? It doesn’t get much easier. In fact, there isn’t much that isn’t easy to do on the Thunderbolt with an LTE connection, other than figuring out how to make the battery last longer, which, as far as I can tell, is the only drawback. It’s somewhat ironic that connectivity issues are rapidly disappearing, while power is again surfacing as a primary need. Yes, I make sure I have a power cord with me wherever I go, but it’s a small price to pay for the speed.

No, there is nothing wrong with the iPhone – it’s a great device. But, if you’re in the market for a new mobile device and you plan on getting the most out of your monthly charges – and you may as well, considering how high they are – why not go with something that will let you experience today’s technology to its fullest capacity. 3G is yesterday’s network.

Erik Linask is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi