Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My New 4G Mobile Broadband Data Service

LG's VL600 USB 4G Modem
Click to enlarge
Last week,  I ordered new mobile broadband internet service from Verizon Wireless.   I installed their access manager software which also installs device drivers for the USB modem (made by LG).  The modem kit includes a short cable and a clip which allows the device to be moved around a bit for best reception.  Typically, one would clip it to the upper edge of a laptop screen.  

The service is Verizon Wireless' "4G" service based on "LTE" .  Although marketed as 4G,  LTE does not meet the ITU requirements for  true 4G (IMT-Advanced) which includes low and high mobility access (pedestrian and static vs. car and train).  Verizon's LTE uses the 700 MHz band which was previously allocated to analog terrestrial television broadcasting. The switch to digital TV broadcasting has opened up valuable spectrum for mobile services with better urban transmission characteristics.

Verizon is claiming up to 12 Mb/s downlink and and up to 5 Mb/s up link.   This service is only available in 39 urban areas today but will expand to several hundred over the next few years.

Mobile broadband is not cheap -  most providers offer plans with data limits- such as 5GB/month. and charge for usage above that at about $10 per GB.  Verizon encourages use of their free WiFi availability with a database of WiFi locations available to their subscribers.  

Even wired (static) services (DSL, Cable-modem, FiOS) are beginning to impose monthly data usage limits:  Comcast has a 250 GB limit.   AT&T's limit is 150 GB plus $10/50GB.  High quality dowloaded video at  10Mb/s  would use about  36 GB/day at 10 hrs/day - on a monthy basis this is about 1,000 GB!  A lot.  More reasonable usage would be about 20-200 GB/month - still way over what's offered in the mobile space.

In the mobile space,  streaming media at 1 Mb/s would still be excessive at 10 hours/day.  So, the network speeds offered are really for fast loading of rich web pages, sporadic fast file downloads  (buying music/video etc.) and moderate use of low-rate video.  With 150 MB usage per day (4.5 GB/month) ,  at peak network speed,  less than 100 minutes is needed to reach the daily limit.   Low bit rate streaming at ~10kb/s could be supported continuously.  Clearly, at future higher speeds,  per bit costs will have to go way down - a kind of Moore's law for communication.

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