FourGone Conclusion?

2:25 PM -- The idea of a "winner" or "loser" in 4G is pretty hillarious to me right now. Let's face it, we've not even really nailed down the boundaries of 4G yet -- beyond the basic technical details -- yet some people are already calling victory for WiMax or Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks.

In fact -- given roughly the same data that is available to everyone -- folks are either suggesting that WiMax has a first mover advantage over LTE, or that we might as well stick a fork in 802.16e already. (See Wireless Internet’s Future: LTE Rules, WiMax Survives.)

Seems like we've forgotten the long and winding transition from the original digital cellular networks to 3G already. Even though you could make a solid argument that the move to 3G is also actually still a work in progress.

Consider this: The first proto-3G networks in the U.S were launched in 2002. (See Waiting for 3G: What about the U.S? and Verizon Is Not the Nation's First.) It wasn't until several years after that data download speeds really started to hit the 144 Kbit/s mandated for 3G. (Things happened faster in Japan and Western Europe, although not that much faster considering the huge sums spent on European spectrum.)

Now the big four U.S. wireless carriers offer download speeds better than dial-up -- even DSL in some cases -- over cellphones (at least in cities; you can still forget the fat pipe in many rural areas). WiMax and LTE should compete with cable on download speeds, although FiOS still kills the radio stars.

Of course, the initial take-up of mobile data services probably wasn't helped by a minor consumer recession and the bursting of the telecom bubble [Ed note: Oh hey, 2002, meet 2008!]. But its pretty obvious that, six or so years after carriers started promoting the "wireless Web", the concept of the Internet on your phone is only now being widely accepted Stateside.

What does this all mean for 4G? For one, it means that technical concerns about early WiMax are a problem but not a deal-breaker. (See Sprint Quiet on WiMax Launch Date.) LTE is actually based on the same radio technology and any assumption that it won't face its own set of teething troubles is laughable at best.

Second, we can reserve judgment on a 4G winner for years yet. Never forget that it is sexy devices, like the RAZR or iPhone, or desirable services, such as Verizon Wireless 's V-Cast, that finally sold 3G to the American public. It will be several years -- at best -- before we get unique devices and services for 4G.

Think of it this way: You usually buy the sandwich for the filling not the bread, even if the bread is tasty seven-grain wholewheat stuff. 4G networks will offer users better bread but carriers, vendors, and content providers will still need to supply the cheese or honey that will make people want the entire sandwich.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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