A Swedish firm has become the first to offer 4G mobile broadband services for consumers. But the service has been described as a “killer user experience” rather than a “killer app”.
The service from TeliaSonera AB will debut in the next few months, initially in Stockholm, Sweden and Oslo, Norway, extending it across the two countries throughout the year. At launch there won’t be any compatible handsets: the service will instead be available for laptops via a dedicated USB dongle produced by Samsung.
In theory, 4G broadband could reach up to 100 megabits per second. That’s 12.5 MBps, which would be classed as a decent fixed-line broadband speed in most places in the world.
The main note of caution for would-be 4G users is that it there aren’t any imminent changes in what you can do with the technology compared with 3G, beyond simple increasing speed. With the 2G to 3G leap, several features became credible options, most notably streaming video and even video messaging. The change from 3G to 4G theoretically allows better resolution video to be streamed, but that’s going to make little noticeable difference on existing handset screens. Of course, on laptops it’s a different story and means watching live TV on the move without squinting could become viable.
The features most likely to benefit from 4G may include videoconferencing for multiple participants and better quality online gaming. However, the market is probably at the chicken-and-egg stage with developers hesitant to put too much effort into applications until there is a sizeable enough user base, and users unwilling to upgrade until there are more benefits to doing so.
Another important issue in the 4G market’s development is how networks manage demand. Getting data ten times as quickly isn’t much more attractive if customers are still subject to tight constraints on monthly data use. But without such limits, some users will inevitably push the network’s capacity to its limit.
Early adoption of the technology may also be limited by the fact that the 4G dongle doesn’t cover 3G reception, meaning that anyone who may leave the 4G coverage area will need two dongles. A dual-format dongle won’t be available until the middle of 2010.
To hook new customers, the firm is offering free modems for the first six months, along with a trial price of just 4 kroner (approximately 56 US cents) a month. In July, the price will then rise to its standard cost of 500 kroner ($70) a month. While that’s theoretically a great way of letting people become dependent on the service and paying up later rather than returning to the slower speeds, there is the possibility that the 4G network will become overloaded if too many people sign up for the offer.