Recently I took the Sprint HTC Evo 4G down to Philadelphia for a weekend, the closest 4G zone to New York City, to see what all the 4G fuss is and will be about.
First, Evo's drool-icious pool of future tech makes it a groundbreaking device — not quite the shock the original iPhone was, but close. Evo's 4G connectivity, front-facing camera, HD camcorder, and especially its multi-user mobile hotspot capabilities, are all features future high-end cellphones will emulate.
But my Philadelphia experiment has revealed to me that 4G will mean more than just faster Web browsing, faster video/music/photo uploads and downloads, faster pussycat kill kill. 4G speeds and the capabilities they enable will literally change our lives. Here are five ways 4G technology will change the way we use our phones.
1. 4G as Ultimate Tethering
Evo includes MiFi-like mobile hotspot capabilities for up to eight simultaneous users. Once Verizon and AT&T launch their 4G LTE networks next year, incorporating a mobile hotspot into phones will be the most emulated Evo feature. Shockingly, Sprint isn't charging extra for hotspot usage; you just have to sign-up for the carrier's Premium Data service. I have to assume Verizon and AT&T won't be so altruistic, especially since they'll lose their modem-card business. But it'll be worth it to not have to carry around both a phone and a wireless card on trips. A mobile hotspot in your 4G phone would also kill the need to pay extra for a 3G/4G iPad or whatever copycat tablet appears.
2. Sharing Your Phone's Connection Will Become Common
With 4G, we'll all become walking hotspots. If you have 4G connectivity, so can anyone around you. Sharing your 4G signal will be the next cool thing, especially as iPads and other tablets proliferate. I'm sure some hip expression or text-like acronym will spring up to indicate you either can offer 4G hotspot capability to a nearby friend or new friend (4G4U?) or beg a nearby 4G user to hooked you up (4GME?).
3. 4G Will Make Your Home Connection Redundant
But tethering won't only happen on the road. Right now, we pay for cable or DSL Internet connectivity for home and 3G for mobile Web connectivity. 4G is supposed to be 10 times faster than 3G, with average throughput of anywhere from 3 to 10 Mbps (compared to 3G's 600 kbps-1.4 Mbps). That's nearly as fast as most home broadband connections and, for a lot of folks, reason enough to sever one suddenly redundant $40/month bill.
4. The Emergence of Telehealth
Remember this term: telehealth. Along with 4G networks, all manner of new sensors are coming to help monitor your body. Everything that a doctor needs you to come to the office to check will be able to be monitored remotely and transmitted via 4G to your doctor. Sensors can be built into stuff you already wear — glasses, belt buckles, watches, bras, jewelry — to send constant body signals to your doctor (or, more likely, some kind of medical computer). Such a system would not only monitor your ongoing condition but also anticipate and react to problems ("You've fallen and we're sending someone to help you up") — sort of a personal OnStar system.
5. Video Chatting
The big new feature of iPhone 4 is FaceTime, Apple's version of mobile video chatting. iPhone 4 users will be able to use it only on Wi-Fi to start, and the reason for that is obvious: the feature would quickly choke 3G networks. Not so 4G. Evo's already got a 1.3 MP front-facing camera
but Sprint hasn't turned on video-chat capability yet and video chatting over 4G is now a reality. Besides video chatting, the killer app may be virtual-reality gaming, raising narcissistic self-absorption to new heights.
What other life-changing apps will 4G enable? Who knows? Verizon doesn't. That's why last fall the carrier created the 4G Venture Forum (4GVF), an incubation project to figure out exactly what kinds of "products and services that will harness" the faster 4G networks. Check back in a year from now to see what crop had sprung from the 4G seed we've planted today.