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

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.