High-bandwidth cellular is breaking out all over. Would you believe 7Mbps-plus download speeds? How about 14Mbps-plus? Those are speeds GSM and CDMA networks, respectively, will achieve, says Qualcomm--although not long before late 2007.
In the interim, cellular carriers are busy upgrading their pipes to still-zippy 3G minimums of 450Kbps to 800Kbps downstream and 300Kbps to 400Kbps upstream. Carriers say their UMTS and 1xEV-DO revisions of GSM and CDMA, respectively, should cover all major U.S. cities by year-end.
Specifically, Cingular Wireless plans to expand its UMTS BroadbandConnect from 16 urban areas to most major markets. Sprint Nextel is upgrading its Power Vision network to a faster EV-DO version with 3.1Mbps bursts that should reach 190 million Americans. And 3G pioneer Verizon Wireless hopes to cover 200 million consumers with the faster EV-DO flavor over its Broadband Access network. Novatel Wirelessand Sierra Wirelessare already shipping the laptop built-ins and PC card receivers for tapping these networks. And the thin selection of 3G-capable smartphones will expand noticeably in coming months.
These multibillion-dollar investments may have something to do with Intel's boast that 1Mbps to 4Mbps mobile WiMAX will arrive in laptops this year, at least three months ahead of schedule. But broadband cellular still has quite a head start, and its relatively low cost, slim hardware profile and unmatched mobility make for a wide-area broadband solution with all the speed most entrepreneurs need.
What's it for? Messaging, web browsing and transferring big graphics files, of course. But the new WAN pipes are also arriving just in time to satisfy our growing interest in streaming video, mobile TV, mapping and navigation. Verizon's VCast TV service already covers all West Coast urban centers and the Eastern Seaboard from Portland, Maine, to Richmond, Virginia. GPS navigation companies like TeleNavsee the new networks as a long-awaited opportunity to expand into location-based services. Who knows what enterprising entrepreneurs will dream up once the infrastructure is in place?
Just don't blink: 3G is here, and 3.5G and 4G solutions are coming up fast.