NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Just like when cell providers such as Verizon (VZ), AT&T (T), Sprint (S) and T-Mobile went from 2G to 3G networks a decade ago, today the cell phone industry is locked in a battle over who has the fastest, most powerful 4G -- or fourth-generation -- cellular network."The big difference to consumers this time is the benefit of 4G will be self-evident," says Mark McDiarmid, vice president of radio engineering for T-Mobile. "The speed and performance gain is impressive."
Without question T-Mobile offers a legitimate value play for reasonably priced, fast Web access domestically and overseas. T-Mobile's 4G network, which uses a technology known as HSPA+, really will make your cell phones, computers and other work tools surf faster online. Like most USB modems, the Rocket 2.0 4G couldn't be easier to install: Just plug it into your USB port, launch some software, click around for a bit, and you're working on the Web. Poof! And in markets that support T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network, control and performance were significantly faster than 3G cell networks. In particular, I found a performance gain while driving at highway speeds cruising down the Interstate -- which, trust me, opened up a world of attention "challenges" while behind the wheel. And because the T-Mobile's network is compatible with fast cellular networks worldwide, if you regularly travel overseas you will have a better chance of keeping in touch with home and office. Overall, T-Mobile's 4G network -- when there is coverage -- offers good performance at a good price. What you don't get
This is neither a fully deployed network nor an idiot-proof way to get connected on the road. Yes, T-Mobile offers businesses a legit, well-priced mobile data business solution. But the company has always been challenged with a perception of spotty coverage, and it's a perception unquestionably confirmed in my testing. In my drive to Maine and back, I would say that at most HSPA+ coverage was available in 30% of the area, mostly near New York, Hartford and Boston. The rest was a mix of 3G access and a surprising amount of older -- and far slower -- so-called EDGE access. And there far too many spots with no coverage at all. To the webConnect modem's credit, it did a reasonable job of managing the handoffs between these coverage areas at highway speeds. But the fact was that connections were dropped every 30 or 40 minutes as I drove, which took some serious tinkering to fix. My gut reaction? If this is the deepest penetration of 4G in America, we all have a long road ahead. Bottom line
As much as I'd like it to be, 4G -- and this is not just for T-Mobile, but for any carrier -- will be no magic bullet for solving your business-networking problems. Yes, it is faster than 3G and, when working, can transform your car or train or park bench into a robust mobile office. But deployments will take time, so coverage will be limited. Which leaves us all in the same old position: If you want to use 4G in your business, you simply must go through the hassle of testing it in your business. That means buying it, using it for a few weeks and, if it works, keeping it; if not, returning it within the trial period and trying the next carrier. As I said, using 4G on the road has a long road ahead. >To submit a news tip, email: email@example.com.
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