4G. You’ve all heard, read or been told about it by enthusiastic tech-friends assuring you how great it’s going to be when you’ll have access to hardline-like broadband speeds in your pocket. But what does 4G actually mean to you as a user?
Here are four major areas that I think 4G will impact over the next couple years:
1. Boosted App Performance and Capabilities
Even though true 4G, which according to the definition set by the ITU-R (International Telecommunication Union Radio Communication Sector) is 100 megabits per second to 1 gigabits per second, slower WiMAX and LTE (Long Term Evolution) technologies will still pave the way for much richer media experiences and improved real-time collaboration possibilities than we’re currently accustomed to. A 3Mbps to 12 Mbps connection, the typical speeds of WiMax and LTE networks, is likely to have the most impact on are games, entertainment and video communication.
Video streaming on the mobile itself can hardly be considered a novelty. However, live streaming of HD content and multi-way HD video chat most certainly can. With 4G, we’re bound to see more comprehensive multimedia experiences and a surge in mobile video consumption as a result of higher quality content that will truly be accessible on-demand, liberated of the lag associated with 3G.
Another aspect of access to higher capacity is the possibility of increased real-time interactivity in a gaming context. Sure, there are currently titles with multiplayer functionality for Android and iOS, but many are turn-based. When the 4G rollout by operators reaches ubiquitous levels, we can expect new game genres, such as First Person Shooters, making their way onto the digital shelves of the various app stores.
2. International 4G Roaming Agreements
One of the biggest consumer problems in telecommunications that has yet to be adequately addressed is roaming. However, with the roll-out of 4G, we might just see a solution at the end of the tunnel. Sprint is the first operator in line to kick down the door to international to this issue, effectively taking the first steps towards allowing users to make use of 4G services regardless of where they are in the world.
Sprint has signed an international roaming agreement with Digicel in Jamaica, as well as Global Mobile in Taiwan, which in practice allows for its customers to leverage the global ecosystem for WiMax 4G services around the globe. This agreement could act as a precedent of sorts and lead the way to encourage carriers in additional countries to jump on the bandwagon sooner, rather than later. Should this come to fruition, we will no longer have to feel inhibited when using our Smartphones when on the road, allowing us to be connected to what matters wherever and whenever.
3. Collaborative Network Contribution, Instead of Strain
In the current cellular infrastructure, we as users contribute nothing to the network. On the contrary, the more users, the more strain and with that comes inconsistent user experiences. We’re all essentially competing for the same (limited) resources.
4G, however, is fundamentally different. In not too long, our devices could actually cooperate for increased capacity, rather than compete with each other. On 4G networks, our smartphones could work similarly to regular broadband routers. They could become a part of the network infrastructure itself. All connected users could potentially “carry” a part of the network with them, allowing capacity to be shifted and adapted to what individual users are doing on their phones and how much data that task demands. If this comes to pass, we’ll literally be able to jump back and forth from congested routes to less congested routes and not have to put up with dropped calls due to over-capacity, slow loading times or poor VoIP service (Voice over IP) quality.
4. The Demise of Flat Rate Data
If 2011 is said to be the year of the tablet, then 2010 can without a doubt be referred to as the year of the smartphone. Yankee Group estimates that the number of smartphones in use on a global scale grew by roughly 40% throughout the course of last year, from 429 million to 598 million. By 2014, that figure will continue to soar to almost 1.4 billion units.
Never before have consumers and enterprise users bought smartphones at such a rate, which together with flat rate data plans, has put an unprecedented strain on operator networks. As a direct consequence, operators are likely to start rolling out tiered pricing models for data within a foreseeable future in conjunction with the advent of 4G. In the transition process from flat to tiered, a significant portion of consumers are likely to be much averse to the shift, and we might even see this lead to a brief period of less data consumption on mobile devices due to fear of being charged overage fees. Over time though, tiered pricing will be for the better as it will facilitate a sustainable user experience through a model that makes more economical sense for operators.
The question is no longer if 4G will impact our lives, but how much. It’s safe to say 4G will impact millions if not billions of users in many ways. The changes will certainly affect how we interact with technology on a daily basis, whether that’s reading news on a tablet, or playing games on a smartphone.
Perhaps the most important change will be a subtle but important one – alleviating a lot of the pain points customers currently experience with 3G, such as unreliable, inconsistent speeds and even dropped calls.
Yes AT&T, we’re looking at you.
Unlike other technological advances that have come along, which tend to drive up costs, 4G might actually have the opposite effect, leading to reduced rates and congestion while improving the channel. Very seldom does something come along and offer up a scenario where everybody wins, but if you’re looking at long term benefits such as better quality, higher capacity, and boosted performance, 4G makes winners out of us all.
Andreas Bernstrom is the CEO of Rebtel, the world’s second largest mobile VoIP company. Prior to Rebtel, the Goldman Sachs alum was COO of Taptu, a leading UK-based mobile search engine, and TradeDoubler, Europe’s leading performance based marketing company.
We’ll be exploring the most disruptive mobile trends at our fourth annual MobileBeat 2011 conference, on July 12-13 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. It will focus on the rise of 4G and how it delivers the promise of true mobile computing. We’re also accepting entries for our mobile startup competition at the show. MobileBeat is co-located with our GamesBeat 2011 conference this year. To register, click on this link. Sponsors can message us at firstname.lastname@example.org.