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Do We Really Need LTE Right Now? Aren’t 3G Speeds Enough?

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Are consumers rushing out to get LTE phones for the same reason they run out to get the next camera with more megapixels when the sensor isn’t any better? Are they running out to get a LTE capable phone for the same reason they upgraded the CPU in their desktop from a 1.33 GHz to a 2.66 GHz processor within a years time? Are they grabbing LTE phones like for the same reason their grabbing a tablet with a front facing camera that they will never use? Are we buying into LTE just because we won’t the latest, greatest innovation inside our gadgets? I think so!

I am a consumer and I am impressed by more megapixels. I was wowed by HTC offering the 1st 16 megapixel camera when an 8 megapixel camera with better optics provides a better photography experience. I was that guy that bought a new PC every year to have the biggest and baddest processor for many years. I am also impressed when I can run a speed test on my phone and see insane numbers pop up but do I need it? I don’t think so.

The fact that 50% of the 7.7 million smartphones that Verizon sold in the 4th quarter of 2011 were 3G iPhones should indicate that consumers are willing to accept 3G for a couple of years instead of waiting for LTE speeds. Of course, the majority of those 7.7 million users were probably not in an LTE market at this time. Even if they were, do they need LTE?

Who needs more Gs?

Consumers that consume lots of video content. Yes, they can definitely benefit from going from 3Mbps to 12Mbps. But if they aren’t on a grandfathered unlimited data plan on one of the major carriers, they are paying dearly for this video consumption. 4G  =5Gb data allotment reached faster right?

Those using their phone as a WiFi hotspot in a home where they are browsing what Apple calls “the Real Internet” on their desktops or laptops. Those sharing that WiFi with others can benefit as well.

The plain and simple truth is that most of the apps that most consumers use on their phones have little added benefit from faster mobile broadband. Checking email, Facebook, and Twitter might seem quicker with LTE, but 3G is plenty fast to accomplish those tasks without feeling like you are waiting.

Data is expensive!

If you are one of those that need more Gs, what type of data plan do you have? I wonder what percentage of US smartphone users are still locked into some sort of unlimited data plan. If you aren’t on an unlimited plan, how fast are you burning through 2-5GB of data? When I was a heavy Pandora user, I was hitting 4-5GB of data per month on an unlimited plan. I can only imagine what people streaming Netflix and YouTube are doing each month. No wonder most of the US Carriers have done away with true unlimited plans.

LTE will allow users to burn through their data allotments 3-4x faster. I am sure the carriers will love that, but I know my wallet doesn’t.

LTE switched off on my Galaxy Nexus.

Battery Drain?

Is getting your Twitter or Facebook fix a tad bit faster worth the battery drain LTE seems to be causing? Lucky for me, I am not in an LTE area, but if I was I would still switch LTE off unless I thought I needed it for a period of time. You might not believe that, but it’s true. There is very little use for LTE in my day-to-day smartphone use.

When we went from EDGE phones to 3G phones several years ago, the same problem existed. People were turning off 3G to save battery. Same problem, different day. Companies like Samsung are working to find a way to get a complete day in on one battery charge when a few years ago, we were getting 2-3 days easily. You’ve got Motorola cramming a huge battery into the Droid RAZR MAXX that is almost 2x bigger than the it’s predecessor. More technology equals more battery drain. We have to sacrifice somewhere and there’s no better place in my opinion than using 3G over LTE.

What we really need!

In my opinion, what we really need is better reach and more capacity. Along with the LTE roll outs, I know that the major carriers in the US are also working on capacity. There are also plenty of rural areas that still in need 3G love. I understand that carriers need to cater to the larger markets, but small town geeks need 3G too. What about capacity? I’ve seen an increase in variable rate circuits fed by fiber rolling out to cell towers over the last year which tells me that the carriers get it. They can increase capacity by simply re-provisioning a circuit. This is a good things. I’d like to have seen widespread roll outs of enhancements like this than LTE rollouts personally. Maybe because I am one of those small town geeks, but still.

So, do you need LTE or do you just want LTE?

Sure, I can whip it out, bring up a speed test app and show 14-16Mbps speeds to a friend and tell him mine’s faster than yours, but at the end of the day… do I need that speed? Not really, it’s a great party trick, but I’m not using apps and services that require that much bandwidth. Are you? Heck, LTE is faster than my home service and I am doing fine.

Chris is a former Microsoft MVP, Windows Phone. Chris works for AT&T, but his thoughts and opinions are his own and that he does not represent AT&T in any capacity online. ChrisLeckness.com

14 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    01/24/2012 at 4:51 pm

    I’m addicted to technology, so yes I HAD to have LTE…lol

    • Chris Leckness

      01/24/2012 at 5:19 pm

      I feel ya. So do you run LTE all day or do you turn it off to save juice.

      • Anonymous

        01/24/2012 at 5:29 pm

        It all depends if I’m in my shop and streaming music, I’ll use 3g. If I’m out on the road and know that there is 4g, I’ll use it. But I usually toggle it depending on what I want to do. I’m running a rooted bionic with an extended battery.

  2. DonJulio

    01/24/2012 at 6:15 pm

    I want to go as fast as I possibly can….

  3. John Chen

    01/24/2012 at 6:39 pm

    If you have ever used 4G, you won’t be asking yourself this.

    The End.

    -Happy HTC Thunderbolt user for the last year

    • Chris Leckness

      01/24/2012 at 6:53 pm

      I was waiting for this comment. I have in fact used 4G. I’ve used AT&T and Verizon LTE for a week. It’s nice, but it’s not worth the battery life I suffered as a result of using it. That’s the reason I installed an LTE toggle for the Galaxy Nexus. AT&T has LTE 30 minutes away where my parents live too. I was shocked that Birmingham Alabama got LTE to be honest.

  4. Jacob Hunter

    01/24/2012 at 7:09 pm

    LTE is freeing up bandwdth for VZW… They want everyone on 4g because its getting crowded on 3g..

  5. doogald

    01/25/2012 at 7:34 am

    I have used LTE, but switched back to a 3G phone. 
    LTE is too unreliable for my taste. The network has had multiple nationwide outages that lasted for hours in the last few months (though none in the last month, so that’s better), but they also affected almost every LTE phone’s ability to get 3G as well. When I need data, I want it to be there – 3G bandwidth always is better than 0 GB LTE when it is down – so I decided to go for the next year and a half with 3G that I can count on to be there rather than LTE, which seems to have a lot of growing pains at the moment.I use WiFi most of the time, anyway, so even with my grandfathered unlimited data plan I’m only using about 300-500 MB/month. Are there times when I wish mobile data was faster? Sometimes, yes, but 3G is more than good enough for the next year or so.

  6. Qnix

    01/25/2012 at 8:13 am

    Faster also means can release the resources to other user at a quicker time and hence increase capacity.

  7. Adam Truelove

    01/26/2012 at 7:03 am

    This is the most ridiculous article ever.  LTE is night and day for me.  My 3G speed where I live is around 700Kbps.  LTE is 8000 Kbps, and that’s even slow for LTE .  Watching a youtube movie or streaming music and even surfing the web was a HUGE pain on 3G.  On LTE, those activities are nearly instant and a pleasure.  Some activities were just plain impossible on 3G.  Sure, no one needs more speed, but if you value your time, it’s sure nice to have.

  8. Anonymous

    01/26/2012 at 8:20 am

    I think it depends upon the carrier. 3G on AT&T and TMobile is plenty fast for my mobile needs, so an upgrade to LTE is for ego purposes only. However the 3G offerings from Verizon and Sprint are pretty limited, so if on Verizon or Sprint I prefer LTE or WiMax if available. I have a second battery for any phone I own and make it a habit to carry with me. Swapping batteries is an easy, efficient way to deal with the extra battery drain.

  9. Marty

    01/27/2012 at 3:41 am

    I agree that LTE is vastly superior to 3G.  It’s not all about bandwidth, latency is much better too.

  10. Speed Reality

    01/29/2012 at 7:19 am

    Wow, someone asking if we need faster networks.  I actually got frustrated enough to write an app (its free and ad-free) to monitor speed over time and location, compare to others, compare carriers, etc.  See Speed Reality Beta on the android market…. 

  11. Anonymous

    11/12/2012 at 9:55 pm

    3G is nearly as fast as my home internet, which is fast enough to get what I need done. If I want to watch movies or listen to music, I’d watch it off my PC or download it. While some of you are reliant on data and find it more efficient with faster speeds, using data instead of your other resources is arguably not more efficient overall. You can use your PC to download a movie and re-watch it anytime you like while you stream or download a movie on your phone to watch it on a smaller screen killing more of your battery. Why stream music when you can download it and save battery listening to mp3′s in your memory card. Why stream a movie to watch on a small screen when you probably have a big screen T.V. at home connected to a PC to watch downloaded films. The only scenario I can think of where I might need LTE is when I am on a road trip and want to watch a movie while connected to an AC adapter in the car, but even then I would have downloaded movies before hand thus saving battery. All in all, I’ve never seen a use for data as much as others because of the things I am able to do to prevent such necessities from becoming on-the-road necessities.

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