LTE, 4G: What’sIt All About?

Internet-connectable objects, without
bumping into “4G” and its synonym,
“LTE.” Both describe the latest in
mobile broadband, and especially
the kind of connectivity needed for
insatiable services. Like video.

At press time last week, on the
eve of the first day of the International
Consumer Electronics Show,
the worst kept secret was what Verizon Wireless
would do with its Thursday-morning keynote. Hint:

What the heck is LTE? Think of it this way, cable
readers: LTE and 4G is like DOCSIS 3.0. It’s the
next step up in series of broadband improvements,
and it’s the arrow you really want in your quiver,
especially when getting serious about handling big
stuff in Internet protocol — like video.

The basics: “LTE” stands for “Long Term Evolution.”
It’s the child of the cellular industry and its
(sizeable) vendor community. Most major U.S.
cellular carriers (except Sprint Nextel) are
upgrading to it, as are most European and “restof-
world” carriers. LTE is all about retooling
mobile networks to do more things — like video.

Given the “broadband” part of “mobile broadband,”
though, it’s not surprising to know that
there’s an alternative and it grew up out of the
computing world: WiMax. Recall that Intel, Google
and Microsoft are participants (along with cable operators)
in the construction of the Clearwire effort.
They favor WiMax, but are keeping the LTE door
open with trials — last week, they released LTE test
results of 30 Mbps downstream, for instance.

Cellular stuff, like LTE and WiMax, is measured
by what spectrum it uses, how fast it can send
and receive data, how soon equipment will be
available, and how all of those parameters impact
battery life. At the core, it’s all about radios, protocols
and processors.

Over the holiday break, I lost the air card for
the laptop. I called Verizon Communications
to ask about switching to LTE. It was available
in my area, slimmed my monthly data package
down by $10/month (to $49.99, from $59.99),
and they could have it to me in two days.

Two days passed. It arrived. Bulkier by far than
the one I lost, but — still! — 4G.

Alas. Let me save you the trouble, Macintosh
users: No go. Maybe by this summer, I was told.

But back to the eve of CES. If LTE was the expectation
for Verizon, tablets were the expectation
for the whole show. In terms of show-floor hype,
and compared to last year, tablets are the new
3DTV. Plus, they’re wireless and much more suited
to being a portable TV screen. But to do video with
any degree of grace, they’ll need a fat, reliable signal.
And that’s what 4G and LTE is all about.

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