Is cellular Internet good enough yet?

Question

Are the cellular based Internet services good enough for me to consider getting rid of my home Internet connection yet?

- Sully

Answer

This question was answered on March 12, 2010. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

You may have noticed that a lot of advertising and online discussions are starting to pop-up about the upcoming ‘4G’ service from the cellular companies and how much better they will be than the current ‘3G’.

3G & 4G are marketing terms used by many companies (including Apple for its iPhone as well as cellular and WiMAX providers) and it’s causing some confusion.

In the cellular network world, 4G is a reference to the ‘4th Generation’ of cellular technology.

The first generation was simply the ability to make calls; the second generation introduced some basic data capabilities (mainly text messaging); the third generation (and the current standard) introduced high-speed data transmission for capabilities beyond voice & text (like audio & video); the coming forth generation is designed to increase the speed to make tasks like streaming video much better.

The general consensus on the speed difference of 4G over 3G is that it will be 3 to 5 times faster in average and peak download speeds, but we will only see limited access to these networks in 2010.

Whether it makes sense for you to ‘cut the cord’ or not has a lot to do with your needs and uses.

At the current time, the cost vs performance of cellular-based Internet services is a little out of line in that you get a lot more speed and data capability with a traditional broadband connection for less than you do with cellular data networks.

If you don’t do much more than surf the web and check e-mail, you may find that the (currently) slower speed of cellular Internet offerings are adequate, but be careful of the pricing structures.

Traditional home-based high-speed Internet services are an ‘all you can eat’ type of offering, whereas some cellular data plans (especially data only plans) have limitations on the amount of information that you can download before being charged extra fees.

If you are going to compare, make sure you are comparing unlimited cellular data plans, even if you don’t think you will need it Content and media on the Internet is increasing at a blinding speed and you could easily increase your data consumption without realizing it on a pay-as-you-go plan.

From a performance standpoint, if you are a hardcore gamer that likes to play against others on the Internet or if you download large videos, lots of music or other content that tends to take a lot of bandwidth, you should probably stick with a traditional residential broadband service.

If having access to the Internet no matter where you are is important, that’s the biggest selling point of the cellular based Internet services Of course, these services only work if you are within range of a data cell tower.

Another issue to consider is the impact of lots of users on a cellular data network While I was attending this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, my cellular data service was almost unusable (there were a huge number of iPhone users all jamming the network at the same time).

If you live in a high-density urban area, you are more likely to run into network overload issues than those that live in suburban or rural areas.

Although, there are solutions available for sharing cellular Internet connections (most companies are referring to it as MyFi or personal hotspots), if you have multiple users in your household, you are definitely better off with a traditional high-speed Internet connection shared through a router for the time being.

4G is getting a lot of hype as the first legitimate alternative to those that want to ‘cut the cord’ but it’s going to be a while before the various providers build out their 4G networks That means that early adopters will only get 4G speeds in limited areas so make sure you see a coverage map before you take the plunge!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on March 12, 2010