EDIT: Since writing this post I've tried the card on Windows 7 and was unable to get it to work with Sprint's software. Instead, I had to download Clearwire's software to use it. Also, this card currently doesn't work on Macs.
3G x 3 = 4G
I was fortunate enough to get invited to Sprint's launch party last week of 4G in Seattle so I felt like it would be crazy to not talk about it because this is definitely an up and coming technology that I've been able to experience first hand. In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive a free 4G wireless card that has free service for a couple of months after the event.
First of all, what is 4G? To be honest, it's just marketing speak for WiMax, which is a technology that allows providers to serve broadband speeds wirelessly at a long range. It's the closest we have to bringing WiFi speeds to mobile devices without a hard cable connection involved for the end user. It also operates on a different spectrum so it can live alongside 3G networks like Sprint's EVDO network. The speeds that I'm seeing are 5-6 MBit down, compared to 1-2 MBit down over 3G. I don't know if any phone on the market right now would know what do with that much bandwidth even if it had a WiMax radio, but the bigger use case here is for laptops though. Anyway, by the time anyone has widespread 4G coverage smartphones should have advanced to the point of having better processing power. One of the things that the reps were making a big deal about was that the latency over 4G is half of 3G (bandwidth is how much data can fit in the pipe at a time, and latency is how fast that data gets to you), which is something smartphone owners would definitely be able to appreciate.
I have to say that I walked into the event fairly skeptical that 4G would be worthwhile, but I was definitely impressed by the time I walked out of there. I was able to play Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox 360 in an online deathmatch without any lag (which would help prove their point of latency being better over 4G). Was I set up? They claim there were no repeaters at the event and they didn't know where the nearest WiMax endpoint was, and they had Tomato running at the Xbox 360 station showing speeds that matched what I was later seeing at home so I think everything was legit. They were even able to stream Transformers 2 in 720p on a Roku box from Amazon Video on Demand without any stutter.
The other booth that I was impressed with was for laptops with 4G built into them. The best part is that there's no contract like with some 3G laptops - you can buy service when you need it and even get day passes to use Sprint's 4G network, both of which are (supposedly) uncapped. I tried a bunch of sites that I figured no one at the event would go to and tried various HD videos on YouTube and Hulu and it was legitimately snappy to the point that it was better than my own WiFi network at home (backed by cable).
The wireless card they gave me has a 3G radio in it, too, and the difference is more than noticeable between 3G and 4G. I was able to VNC into my desktop at work and have a smooth experience, unlike my normal VNC experience. While I don't know if 4G is going to be enough for Sprint to face off with AT&T and Verizon next year, the speeds are definitely something to be excited about. It's still yet to be seen what kind of cell phones come out next year for the network, but $60 for unlimited usage on a wireless card actually tempted me to sign up for a service plan next year after my current contract with my cable provider expires next year because it's been surprisingly dependable. I know the network isn't being used much right now, but they claim that even if it does get pegged that it's easy for them to scale up the network to accommodate the load. Anyway, I hope that 4G comes to your area soon, too, so that you can experience what it's like for your wireless network card to not really suck. It looks like Sprint is pretty serious about it and I hope it works out for them.
AT&T Strikes Back
I have to say that I'm actually pretty happy about this battle between Verizon and AT&T. It's pitting two major carriers against each other for product differentiation in which the consumers are bound to win.
Apple decided to take a little jab at Verizon with ads demonstrating functionality on the iPhone you can't get on Verizon, like talking while using the web. It was pretty roundabout though whereas the Verizon ads were dead-on attacks headed up by Luke Wilson. The ads aren't really all that fair, but they can get away with them because they're half-truths and the average person won't know any better. Still, the damage done by the Verizon ads may already be done. We'll have to see how it all shakes out in AT&T's quarterly results. The fact that they actually paid Luke Wilson to do these ads may be evident that they've already taken a hit from the ads - or it could just be fear.
Holiday Shopping Tips
There were a couple of articles I ran into that I thought were worth passing along regarding shopping for your tech gifts this holiday season. The first is from Tech Freaks and tells you what not to get. Given all the deals we're bombarded with, it's easy to forget the basics, like that the learning curve for a gadget may make it useless depending on who you're getting it for.
The other just gives you a pretty solid rundown of what the hot phones are right now and what their headline features are.
Sprint Feeding Cops Your GPS Location
I wish I had more time to talk about it, but Ars Technica has a great little article about how Sprint has given GPS data about it customers to law enforcement millions of times and the ease of use makes it unclear how many of these requests were backed by valid warrants. While this article picks at Sprint it wouldn't surprise me if other carriers were doing this. Just a scary fact to be aware of and to try to make your congressperson aware of. It's unfortunate how every year we devolve more and more into a dystopian 1984 world.
I'm way over time here because I was having computer issues, so let me briefly wrap up on a few other stories.
Google and TiVo have reached an agreement where TiVo is providing anonymous usage information to give advertisers a better understanding of who they're reaching. I don't think it's as scary as it may sound - if it brings television into the current decade then I'm all for it.
For the first time ever, Firefox has beaten IE6...in Germany. Still, it's pretty cool.
Tech Radar has a very thorough review of Office 2010. There weren't any surprises for me given what I've heard from within Microsoft, and I look forward to getting my hands on it.
The White House has gone on record as stating that net neutrality is linked to free speech, which further shows their support for net neutrality. This is in addition the President comparing a non-neutral Internet to Chinese censorship. I really hope they don't back down on this, but I also hope they don't go too far with it and create burdensome regulations.
Have a great week everyone! Stay warm!