What Price 4G?

4:50 PM -- I had the privilege of chairing a session on Mobile Broadband at last week’s Interop conference. I’ve been a member of the Interop Conference Advisory Board for a very long time, and Chair of the Wireless and Mobile (and now Convergence) tracks for a similarly long time. I love this event; it’s the crown jewel of annual enterprise-focused network technology and operations events, and I always learn a lot.

The Mobile Broadband Session dealt mostly with the rather vague topic of 4G. Everyone agreed that 4G remains an imprecise term. Is it 100 Mbit/s, as the ITU says? Or is it, using Farpoint Group ’s definition, an all-IP, wireless, mobile, broadband (multi-megabit, but otherwise unspecified in terms of throughput) network with support for time-bounded services? I obviously like the latter, since I don’t think a real customer is going to see 100 Mbit/s, at least at a reasonable price, on a wireless wide-area network anytime soon.

Which brings me to the thought I was left with at the end of my session -- can we really afford 4G? Given the cost of licensed spectrum and yet another wireless network build-out, how much would we have to charge a given user for 2-4 Mbit/s, let alone 100? Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) could pull off some really good deals with its WiMax service, since it didn’t pay much for its spectrum. As for the LTE/UMB crowd, such may not be possible. The consensus of the panel is that we will see 4G in the 2012-1015 timeframe -- but at what price?

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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