In choosing candidates for the Leading Lights "Most Innovative 4G Service" category, I tried to stick with candidates that -- while pushing the envelope -- are offering an actual service.
These are services that I've talked to people about, seen in operation or got good reports on from friends and colleagues in the UK. Frankly, the pace of 4G upgrades and services are moving so fast that -- in six months' time -- this list could be quite different again.
For instance, I alerted NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) to this category but the Japanese carrier felt that its new 150Mbit/s update to its Xi LTE service is still at a "pre-launch" stage.
So here is a snapshot of the 4G innovators in the second half of 2013.
Aio Wireless LLC – Aio Wireless Aio Wireless LLC is the clearest choice yet available in the US if users want a low-cost, contract-free LTE service that covers the widest number of markets in the country.
The Aio brand launched on AT&T's LTE network in June, and the network now covers 397 towns and cities nationwide. The mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) offers plans ranging from $40 for 250MB of high-speed data, throttled at the cap, to $70 for 7GB.
AT&T Inc. – AT&T Small Cells AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is one of the carriers that has been most vocal about using small cells to add capacity and coverage in its network. The operator has said that it will deploy 40,000-plus of the units for a 3G, 4G LTE, and WiFi boost through 2015.
The operator has been testing small cells through 2013 in residential, high-rise, and business applications. It is now ready to be amongst the first major carriers to start a next-generation small cell push, telling us that the first of the small cells are now live on its network.
Everything Everywhere Ltd. – 4G from EE EE was first operator to launch 4G in the UK in October 2012 and now boasts one of the fastest LTE networks in the world. EE offers 150Mbit/s maximum download speeds on its network, thanks to its early use of carrier aggregation techniques to bond radio channels for extra speed and bandwidth.
Not resting on its laurels, the operator intends to have completed its rollout of 4G in the UK by year's end. In 2014, it will move to deploy services that run over the wireless IP network for high-def voice and other updates.
FreedomPop – FreedomPop Niklas Zennström-backed startup FreedomPop has gone from nought to 4G LTE in a mere matter of months. The company started its "freemium" service with Clearwire and has moved from offering sleeves for iPhones and iPods to adding home broadband and an upcoming voice service for free.
In August, the MVNO added a new twist to LTE services in the US with its initial offering. The company is offering its $149 FreedomSpot 5580 mobile hotspot that runs on Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s LTE network in the 151 LTE markets in the US. The twist is that it offers 50MB of data free and the ability to share data with friends to get more later.
Transit Wireless LLC -- NYC subway wireless service Transit Wireless LLC's NYC subway deployment isn't the first in the world but it is enabling 3G, 4G, and WiFi across the largest metro system by number of stations and total track miles in the world. The company is using a system that converts cellular and WiFi signals to optical and back again to provide coverage via WiFi hotspots and distributed antennas in the stations.
The operation has deployed 36 stations now and will start on the next 40 soon. On completion, the project will cover a total of 277 stations.
Let me know what you think of the candidates, suggest alternatives, and chat it up on the message board below. The Leading Lights winners and the identities of the latest Hall of Fame inductees will be revealed at the Leading Lights awards dinner, which will be held during the evening of Tuesday, October 1 at the frightfully hip The Out hotel in New York City. (For more details, see Leading Lights 2013.)
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading