The next generation of wireless networks is upon us. Sprint was the first major carrier to offer 4G (WiMax)
service in the United States, but Long Term Evolution
—the flavor of 4G that is most likely to dominate the market for high-speed wireless—has only recently begun to roll out. Verizon activated the service in 39 cities on December 5, and the carrier claims that the new network will pump out download speeds of between 5 megabits per second and 12 mbps—ten times as fast as 3G data service. Verizon LTE should be available in virtually all U.S. markets by the end of 2013.
Right now, consumers can access LTE service on their laptop using a 3G/4G USB stick from Verizon. Verizon says that the first LTE phones for its network will go on sale by mid-2011. Beyond that, LTE radios will begin showing up in all kinds of mobile devices, from tablets to video cameras.
LTE service will make existing mobile apps run much faster. The picture quality of streaming video will improve significantly. Videoconferencing will be smoother. Downloading files and loading Web pages will be far less tedious. Verizon and other service providers hope that many new apps capable of fully exploiting 4G speeds will emerge.