Our 4G Future

Last weekend I took the Sprint HTC EVO 4G down to Philadelphia, the closest 4G zone to New York City, to see what all the 4G fuss is and will be about – especially after Verizon launches its 4G LTE network on November 15.

My Philadelphia experiments tell me 4G will mean more than just faster Web page loading, faster video/music/photo uploads/downloads, faster pussycat kill kill. 4G speeds and the capabilities it enables will literally change our lives. Here are five 4G portents we’ve thought up so far.

1. ULTIMATE TETHERING. EVO includes MiFi-like mobile hot spot capabilities for up to eight simultaneous users. Once Verizon and AT&T launch their 4G LTE networks this year and next, respectively, I predict incorporating a mobile hot spot into phones will be the most emulated EVO feature – the Motorola Droid X has one to support up to five simultaneous users, albeit in suddenly sluggish 3G. Whatever Sprint, Verizon or AT&T may charge for phone-based mobile hotspotting will be worth it to not have to carry around both a phone and a wireless card on trips. A mobile hotspot in your 4G phone also kills the need to cough up extra dough for a 3G/4G iPad or whatever copycat tablet appears.

2. SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE. We’ll all become walking multi-user hotspots. If you have 4G connectivity, so can anyone around you. Sharing your 4G signal with your tablet/netbook-toting posse will be the next cool thing, especially as iPads and other tablets proliferate. I’m sure some hip expression or text-like acronym will spring up to indicate you either can offer 4G hotspot capability to a nearby friend or new friend (4G4U?) or beg a nearby 4G user to hooked you up (4GME?). Just make sure you take an extra power source with you – hotspotting is a real battery drainer.

3. CUTTING THE CORD. But mobile hotspot tethering won’t only happen on the road. Right now, we pay for cable or DSL internet connectivity at home and 3G for mobile Web connectivity. 4G is supposed to be 10 times faster than 3G, with average throughput of anywhere from 3 to 10 Mbps (compared to 3G’s 600 kbps-1.4 Mbps), and the next gen 4G will double that speed. That’s nearly as fast as many home broadband connections, certainly faster than DSL, and, for a lot of folks, reason enough to sever one suddenly redundant monthly bill.

4. 4G TODAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY. Remember this term: telehealth (or, mhealth). Along with 4G networks, all manner of new bio-sensors are coming to help monitor your body. Everything that a doctor needs you to come to the office to check can be monitored remotely, with data transmitted to your doctor – but the fatter 4G pipe is needed to handle this thick bio-metric data flow. Remote monitoring means fewer office visits, which means there won’t be the crush of new Obamacare patients to fight for an appointment. Bio-sensors with built-in radios can be built into stuff you already don – glasses, belt buckles, watches, bras, jewelry – to create your own on-person OnStar system. These 4G-fueled bio-sensors will maintain a constant communication with some Big Brother medical computer and your doctor to anticipate and react to medical emergencies it detects (“You’ve fallen and we’re sending someone to help you up”).

5. VIDEO CHATTING. Like iPhone 4, EVO has a front-facing camera. Unlike FaceTime, which only works over WiFi, EVO’s video chatting can be done over Sprint’s 4G network. Ostensibly, the front-facing camera is supposed to be for video chatting, but the killer app may be virtual reality gaming, raising narcissistic self-absorption to new heights.

What other life-changing apps will 4G enable? Verizon doesn’t even know. That’s why last fall the carrier created the 4G Venture Forum (4GVF), an incubation project to figure out exactly what kinds of “products and services that will harness” the faster 4G networks.

Check back in a year from now to see what crop had sprung from the 4G seed we’ve planted today.

About Stewart Wolpin

I have been writing about consumer electronics for four decades, including news, reviews, analysis and history for a wide variety of consumer, niche and trade outlets. For the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), I annually update the industry's history and write the official biographies of the CTA Hall of Fame inductees. Aside from writing about consumer technology for a variety of consumer, tech and trade publications, I write a blog and do market research for Digital Technology Consulting. In the non-tech world, I have written "Bums No More: The Championship Season of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers" and "The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle." Check out my work at www.stewartwolpin.com.
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