4G: Here It Comes, Ready or Not -- Part III

With Xohm, the WiMAX-based high-speed wireless data network launched by Sprint in Baltimore earlier this fall, the fourth generation of mobile communications, 4G, arrived early -- at least according to some definitions.

The version of WiMAX (802.16e) that Xohm is using, which is also being deployed by carriers in overseas markets such as India, can deliver ubiquitous multi-megabit-per-second wireless connectivity.

In North America, Sprint's decision to go with WiMAX makes it the odd man out. Most carriers here will wait for LTE (Long Term Evolution), a "true" 4G standard that is expected to deliver up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) -- but won't be here for at least two years.

In the first two instalments of this three-part series, we looked at how the 4G world might unfold (uncertain) and how quickly (not very). Now we look at how 4G might actually impact enterprises.

That, according Phillip Redman, a research vice president at Gartner, is "the billion dollar question." Redman is referring, we think, to the investments carriers will have to make, perhaps unwisely, in the new technology. He's a 4G curmudgeon.

Of course users want higher-speed connectivity when they're mobile, he says. But the increases 4G promises likely won't inspire them to or allow them to do anything new or different. It will just be more of the same, only faster.

"And how many are willing to pay for [the increased speed], and how much they're willing to pay remains to be seen," Redman adds.

Furthermore, by the time 4G arrives, the connection speeds it delivers will likely only be keeping pace with user expectations conditioned by wireline performance, he points out.

But others believe 4G could have a very significant impact, that it will usher in an era of inexpensive, ubiquitous, high-speed connectivity, and that enterprises should be starting to think about the implications now and possibly even acting on them.

According to Xohm, the impact will be felt not in some indeterminate future but almost immediately. The company has focused first on consumers and individual road warriors, but will turn "quickly" to enterprise and public safety markets, says Bin Shen, Sprint's vice president of broadband.

Even though the data speeds Xohm is offering are a far cry from what true 4G will deliver in a few years, it still offers enterprises a strong value proposition, Shen argues.

Because it's an all IP network, it means they won't have to adapt applications developed for the desktop to work on the mobile network. (They probably will still have to adapt them to work on handheld devices, though.)

Xohm's wireline-like data speeds also mean the wide area network will put no bandwidth constraints on such applications, and the beefed up security with WiMAX should relieve concerns IT managers have about extending the corporate network into the mobile realm.

"We've had tremendous interest from enterprise customers," Shen claims. "Especially from IT departments."

TAGS:

wireless, carriers, Wimax, 4g, LTE
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