Recently Sprint announced its first 4G phone, the HTC Evo 4G, offering during CTIA in Vegas (probably in preparation for my birthday?). If you've been watching the telly recently you'll also probably have noticed the Overdrive, a 4G enabled mobile access point (announcement of which went out the day before CTIA). Kidding aside, this should be considered "first blood" given how the race is on for phone networks to provide the dreamed 4G network coverage as well compatible devices that would take advantage the upgrade provides.
Update: HTC Evo 4G phone pricing was just announced hours ago.
Lets get some basics right, what is 4G and how did we get here, and why? Well, 4G means its the fourth-generation of cellular wireless standards with the previous generations having to do with moving from analog (1G) to digital (2G). Next up and everything else so far is increasing speed and reach such as 200 kb/s (3G) and then we get 10 Mb/s speeds and an all-IP based network (4G).
What does it mean for businesses and consumers? In a very basic nutshell the results would be increased download (and upload) speeds that will rival that of dial-up POTS connections. Think of it, for those still tethered to wi-fi access points this would mean you could use your phone (or any compatible device) in a gigabit network. Think of all the surfing, ehem, work that could be done?!
Will I get better call coverage? I called up AT&T complaining about the network coverage my iPhone had inside the house versus outside in the open. The nice lady said a roll-out of more cell-towers in my area was eminent around the fourth quarter of this year with completion next year. The company should be 4G ready by 2012. I should turn-off 3G if I wanted to stop all the dropped-calls to my meetings. Its possible that the 3G connection (and apps that were apparently guzzling, not sipping) data were the culprit and interfering with the connection.
What voice call improvements does it provide? And so, the relevant part in the above story is that all these "G's" do nothing in terms of call coverage. Without a cell-tower nearby you're out of luck. Geeeeeez!
Are my current devices compatible? Road and wi-fi warriors like me are already using components or considered 4G. Users of the Verizon network see it in EV-DO (based on the CDMA2000 standard) devices they plug-in to laptops; routers and access points are using MIMO (based on the 802.1xx standard). You'll have to mishmash these all together to come up with LTE which is another competing standard. I tried to prolong telliling you the awful truth, which is "no". You will need to get new phones to make full native use of 4G. But, this is not going to happen overnight. It will be a gradual roll-out in parallel where networks will be upgraded yet keeping some of the old stuff alive to be backward compatible. Yes, your current phone is now a "legacy product". So if you're not at least using a smartphone by now, think of it as the silver lining to what savings holding back upgrading now has given you. Think of it, in two years you'll have finally "arrived" :-)
Does it have security implications? Hah! You betcha. But it doesn't necessarily have to be something new. In fact the best laid scams and cons are probably as old as Abraham. Think of mobile phones as mini-computers that fit in the palm of your hand. Miniaturization of existing technology is but a natural step in the gadget evolution. This is really mind blowing stuff if you consider that the first electronic computers were the size of baseball fields and filled with vacuum tubes. But, I digress slightly ... its safe to say that all the things you used to see on your desktop will now fit in your mobile device -- including all the existing threats and annoyances like social engineered spam, 419 scams, malware, phishing sites, the whole lot. And we're not even talking about threats that could be posed by the use of mobile phones (and other wireless gadgets) given the pervasive use of radio waves in the various spectrums. Do you remember back in the day when the advice was not to place phones near your headboard? Guess what, who doesn't feel lost in these social networking days without that last Facebook profile check or Twitter message -- all from the convenience of your mobile phone.
Looking forward what is, or could be, 5G? For you hold-outs, even for 4G, wondering how soon will this technology be replaced: I'd give it another decade at least from now if not more. Take note that the ultimate communications technology has already been envisioned in Star Trek, all we're doing now is just trying to make it reality.