For the last decade there has been a convergence of all kinds of technologies, especially those involving communication. VOIP, PDA’s, Wi-Fi cell phones, camera phones, touch screens, accelerometers, the list goes on. In many aspects, the features available on a cell phone eclipse those available on either a laptop or a desktop. And as far as anyone can tell this trend is only going to be magnified as the gap between cell phone and laptop continues to narrow. For example, the G1 due out this month and the iPhone (along with all of the copycat phones that have cropped up since its release), are the most recent step towards closing that gap. They both feature full web browsers as well as many other features previously only seen on personal computers.
From the other side, the emergence of “Netbooks” (small underpowered laptops that are very portable and mostly used for internet connectivity) mark the computer’s most recent step towards the cell phone’s portability.
One of the main things limiting the progress of both of these technologies is the lack of an acceptable network for them to tie into. Wi-Fi networks are far too restrictive because by nature they have a small range and are “clunky” to move between (as opposed to cell phones which can transfer between towers without the callers ever knowing). The phone carrier’s infrastructure, even 3G, is far too slow for “real” web browsing and many of the more bandwidth intensive apps that you find online. This 3G network may be suitable for the current crop of phones, but that is only because they are still very immature when it comes to data connectivity. The highest data rate possible with 3G is 14.4 Mbit/sec (1.8 Mbps). This data rate is becoming unacceptably slow for computers, and phones are on the verge of blowing past that transfer rate in their capabilities as well (at this point the data standard is probably what is holding back better phone development).
Enter 4G. 4G is the successor to 3G (as 3G was the successor to 2G) and boasts data speeds between 150 Mbit/s (18.75Mbps) and 1 Gbit/s (125 Mbps). 4G technology will purportedly be widely available between 2012 and 2015. While this may seem like a long time from now, it also represents a huge step in our infrastructure as a country. However, first a little clarification: the 1 Gbit/s rate will only be attainable while a device is relatively stationary. The faster the device is moving (think car, train, plane?) the closer to the 150 Mbit/s rate it will achieve. Now keep in mind 150 Mbit/s is still almost 10 times the average connection speed in the United States (1.9 Mbps). I believe that once this type of service becomes available it is only a matter of time until the idea of a “home internet connection” is completely obsolete. Laptops will come with built in 4G cards like they now come with built in WiFi. This will be the first time a wide ranging technology will be fast enough to seriously upstage local WiFi networks. This will mean connection anywhere you have cell reception at a speed several levels of magnitude faster than anyone is currently offering in the United States. 4G will be capable of offering live streaming full HD broadcasts on mobile devices. The ability to download an entire HD movie in a matter of minutes, stream anything, and who knows what other innovations, both hardware and software, will come from this new found bandwidth.
While this technology may be years from being mainstream, at Brattle we have our eye on this as well as many other technologies in the mobile and web world so that when they do become available, we will be able to hit the ground running and be among the first to offer services that take advantage of the increased capabilities.
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