At the San Francisco, California 4G launch event today, Sprint and representatives from the San Francisco 49ers 8 to 80 Zone foundation, founded by 49ers stars Steve Young and Jerry Rice, announced that the ‘Now Network’ carrier will be donating a number of 3G/4G multi-mode USB modems and technical expertise to the East Palo Alto foundation. The 8 to 80 Zone helps inner-city youths in underserved communities learn about technology and media, and Sprint’s efforts in the community highlight just one of many non-consumer-facing initiatives that is powered by 3G and the faster 4G mobile broadband technology.
With 4G technology, consumers, business partners, and organizations now can enjoy truly untethered access to broadband access. Aside from Sprint’s consumer-facing business, which delivers 4G to modems and smartphones, the carrier is aggressively pursuing the machine-to-machine market, which will leverage the power of 4G in new applications, devices, and uses. Some of those applications demonstrated include 4G in markets for healthcare, law enforcement and public safety, home and entertainment, retail, and automotive.
By using 4G, Sprint and its partners were showing off ways that people could increase collaboration and communications. With the fast embedded mobile broadband, Sprint is showing how healthcare can be transformed, and the mobile broadband connections that are enabled can help doctors make house calls. While house calls are nothing new, just ask Laura Ingalls and her Little House on the Prairie, 4G will enable doctors to remotely video conference with their patients to diagnose ailments, retrieve charts and view records instantly, and virtually and remotely confer with colleagues and specialists from afar to get all the best experts in the same virtual room.
4G-enabled cameras can help police officers, businesses, and construction sites monitor their equipment without requiring expensive wiring or additional equipment—all that’s really required is a 4G USB modem or a wireless hotspot, like the Overdrive or the new Novatel 3G/4G wireless mobile hotspot router. No expensive towers, antennas, or signal boosters are needed to help keep the costs low and the equipment to be truly mobile to be moved from one job site to another.
From 4G-embedded vending machines, which would report back to a command center how much inventory is remaining and if the machine needs to be re-stocked, to streaming Netflix shows wirelessly over Sprint’s 4G WiMax Now Network on the Roku set-top boxes, Sprint is enabling consumers and businesses to cut the cord, a message that resonated with the various demos and presentations at the SF event. While wired broadband may not be anything new for many readers of GottaBeMobile.com and Notebooks.com, there are still many areas—particularly rural areas—in the country that aren’t wired for fast Internet, and the wiring would be time consuming and costly. With 4G routers, modems, and smartphones, solutions like what Sprint offers can be set up instantly and used with little added costs for installation. All users would need is a smartphone—which can tether via a Mobile Hotspot app as on the Sprint HTC EVO 4G—or a USB modem or wireless router and users can experience speeds that are comparable to mobile broadband offerings.
At the Sprint event, connection speeds over 4G hovered between 3 Mbps and 8 Mbps—as a disclosure, Sprint’s 4G speeds in the Bay Area have been slower than that previously as Xavier had discovered. Even the slowest speeds today in SF beat my sluggish home DSL network.
By offering its service, equipment, and expertise to the 8 to 80 Zone, Sprint will help foster a generation of youths to nurture their skills and interests in technology, communications, and creativity. Students interested in television production, music, radio, and design can collaborate with other 8 to 80 Zones across the country to share ideas over video chat, research their ideas on the Internet, and watch streaming video broadcasts over 4G WiMax technology.
With mobile broadband on the rise, perhaps these children will be the first generation who never experienced wired broadband and won’t miss it. After all, our kids don’t even know what a BetaMax tape is in an age of digital downloads, these youths will never need to know what an Ethernet connection is in the fast growing generation of more Gs.
Sprint isn’t the only 4G player in town—T-Mobile has been actively promoting its evolved 3G network—HSPA+–as 4G and AT&T will be migrating to LTE later this year; Verizon Wireless has already launched its 4G LTE network and the carrier has announced a number of popular smartphones and tablets for launch. As all these networks may offer comparable real-world speeds, the battle may not be about which standards to use—HSPA+, LTE, WiMax—but about creating a robust development platform to enable 4G applications.
While the consumer smartphone and tablet segments will be a large area of growth into the future, machine-to-machine collaboration will represent a huge opportunity for carriers like Sprint to target enterprises and businesses. From smart utility grids, remote video monitoring, to smarter cars and appliances that connect to a network and report data, 4G will enable more applications that we haven’t even conceived possible today.