4G Wireless: Years, Miles to Go

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Fourth generation wireless networks -- also known simply as 4G -- will be one of the biggest tech building booms of the decade. We're talking one of those rare and sweeping industry transition points that promises to stimulate big spending, new product cycles and the remake of the Internet for an era of mobile computing.

For investors, the upgrade reeks of another Internet gold rush: 4G promises to take smartphones to desktop speeds, unleash a whole new crop of wireless devices and finally deliver the full potential of the mobile Internet.

But don't start picking your winners yet. Objects in the tech distortion window can appear deceptively close at hand -- the distance from here to 4G is farther than you might have guessed.

"These are still the early days," says Ericsson ( ERIC) CFO Jan Frykhammar. "I don't believe we will see significant revenue from 4G until 2012."
COO Jan Frykhammar.
Ericsson CFO Jan Frykhammar.

Blame Verizon ( VZ) for starting the clock a little too early on 4G. In Nov. 2007, jockeying for a leading edge in the wireless race against AT&T ( T) and Sprint ( S), Verizon announced that it was taking the long term evolution (LTE) path to 4G. Verizon has vowed to have LTE available in more than 25 cities this year. But high-priced chips and a lack of LTE gadgets all but guarantees that the true 4G action won't arrive for a few more years.

Following with its own LTE plan, AT&T announced its intentions in Feb. 2008. And as a backer of Clearwire's ( CLWR) WiMax flavor of 4G wireless technology, Sprint has said that it hasn't ruled out an LTE upgrade path.

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