The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
Look Ma! No wires! I am now surfing the Internet at high speeds, all without a wired Internet connection.
Years ago, the cell phone companies introduced wireless data and the world has not been the same since. Anyone within range of a cell phone tower can connect a laptop computer, a tablet computer, a handheld device, or most any other computer device that has the appropriate hardware to the cell phone company's wireless network. Wireless access has revolutionized the computer business: handheld and portable devices are now out-selling laptop and desktop computers.
Originally, these wireless connections used the EVDO standard, which is about as slow as a standard dial-up Internet connection by telephone. In fact, EVDO is often SLOWER than dial-up. Few people cared about speed in those days; for them, the amazing thing was that wireless even worked at all. Of course, we all know what happens to slow speeds in the computer business: they don't last very long.
About five years ago, the cell companies upgraded to 3G (third generation) connections. 3G speeds under ideal conditions are roughly comparable DSL connections, much faster than the earlier EVDO standard. Almost all wireless devices nowadays use 3G.
In the past few months, a few of the cell phone companies have installed 4G (fourth generation) equipment on some of their towers. These new devices are even faster than the previous 3G standard. They are always faster than DSL and often will approach cable modem speeds. According to the International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced requirements for 4G standards, the typical 4G network has maximum peak speeds of 100 megabits per second for high mobility communication (such as from trains and cars) and 1 gigabit per second for low mobility communication (such as pedestrians and stationary users). You should be aware, however, that there are no devices available today that can provide anything approaching those speeds. All of the present-day 4G devices run much, much slower than the theoretical maximum speed, although they all run a lot faster than the 3G devices.
NOTE: EVDO, 3G, and the new 4G connections should not be confused with wi-fi, an entirely different system. Wi-fi connections typically are made at very high speeds but have short range. Most wi-fi "hotspots" are privately owned and have a range of 100 feet to perhaps 200 feet under optimum conditions. Wi-fi connections often are provided free of charge by individuals, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses. Some wi-fi providers will charge fees for the use of their networks.
In contrast, the EVDO, 3G, and 4G networks are slower, are owned by the cell phone companies, and have a range of five or more miles from the nearest cell phone tower. These networks are commercial operations, and the cell phone companies ALWAYS charge fees for accessing these long range networks. The EVDO, 3G, and 4G networks will normally maintain connections and work well even when riding along a super highway (hopefully when someone else is driving) or on a bus or commuter train.
My personal history with these wireless modems has been partly deliberate and partly driven by quiks of fate. The fate came into play a few weeks ago when I accidentally destroyed my Novatel 3G wireless modem by sending it through the laundry. Electronics, water, and detergent don't mix very well. The dryer heat probably didn't help either. That was not a fun day in my household. I wrote about that experience at http://goo.gl/GEmxF
I then enabled "tethering" on my Apple iPhone 4 cell phone, converting it into a 3G wireless "hotspot" that could be used simultaneously by several other devices. It worked well, but I did notice that speeds were significantly lower than my previously-used dedicated hotspot by Novatel. In researching the problem on Google, I discovered that many people had described the same experience on various message boards. In fact, the "problem" is not limited to Apple iPhones. Some messages also recounted similar experiences by Android cell phones being used as hotspots. Apparently, the 3G cell phones are not optimized for use as hotspots in the same manner as dedicated 3G hotspot hardware. You can read more about this problem at http://goo.gl/irInV and especially at http://goo.gl/sdWcH which describes an experience with slow connections on an Android phone.
Another "problem" is that my iPhone only works at 3G speeds and at less than optimum speed even then. Yet the wireless world is starting to convert to 4G.
A few weeks ago, Sprint announced a new combination 4G and 3G wireless modem for use as a hotspot. I wanted the faster speed, so I ordered one immediately. The web site claimed that the unit would be shipped “when available.” A few days ago, I returned from an overseas business trip to find a package from Sprint waiting for me. It apparently is one of the first units to be shipped to a customer.
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