Sprint Sprints Across 4G Finish Line, But Is It Really 4G?

OVERLAND PARK, Kan.—According to initial reviews, the future of mobile connectivity has arrived in the form of the newly released phone from Sprint, the HTC EVO 4G. But there seems to be some confusion (and disagreement) as to the actual availability of mobile-wireless networks capable of true 4G speed.

PCWorld, for one, is impressed with both the new Sprint phone and its performance.

“At least on paper, the HTC EVO 4G from Sprint absolutely crushes,” wrote Jared Newman in a Wednesday mini-review of the phone. “It's not just one killer feature that puts the EVO over the top; the spec sheet reads like a wish list for anyone who's owned a touchscreen smartphone. We won't find out until this summer whether Sprint's exclusive 4G phone makes the best of its features, but in the meantime, here are five things to get excited about.”

Newman’s list includes the phone’s 4.3-inch touch screen, two cameras, a “leap” to multitask function, the kickstand and the fact that it is 4G.

“Yes, the phone works over Sprint's budding 4G network, which makes for some impressive download speeds,” he concludes. “Unless you're in one of the 27 cities where Sprint has already rolled out the next generation of mobile broadband, or one of the 15 that will come online this year, you'll rely on plain-old 3G instead. But think of it as future-proofing.”

A PCWorld companion piece by Mark Sullivan posted Tuesday took the phone for a “test drive” in Las Vegas, one of Sprint’s supposedly 4G-wired cities.

“My tour guide was Iyad Tarazi, Sprint’s VP of 4G WiMAX network development,” wrote Sullivan. “During our 20-minute drive on and around the Las Vegas Strip, we measured network speed using testing software running on a laptop with a Clearwire modem.”

On that day, in that town, the network seemed to fulfill its promise. “The Clearwire network consistently pumped out download speeds in the neighborhood of 11 to 13 megabits per second (mbps),” said Sullivan. “We drove through two areas where the speeds were much lower—in the 2 to 5 mbps range—but I never saw the download speed meter dip below 2 mbps. With download speed of more than 2 mbps you can watch a streaming video in high definition.”

Upload speeds during the test were much slower, however, averaging “only 75 kilobits per second (kbps) to 135 kbps—speeds that would be considered slow on 3G networks.” The slow upload speeds were explained away as abnormal and not consistent with Clearwire’s normal measurements.

“Sprint’s Tarazi assured me that the upload speed results were an anomaly, and that he had measured upload speeds of 700-800 mbps on similar tours earlier in the day,” wrote Sullivan. “Another Sprint exec riding with us commented that the time period in which we looked at the Las Vegas WiMAX network (around 5:30 PM) is also a peak period for network traffic, suggesting that Clearwire’s upload speeds suffer when the network load is at its highest.”

While congestion could certainly account for the anomalies, Stefan Constantinescu over at IntoMobile claims that Sprint is engaging in marketing-speak when it lays claim to the first 4G network in the United States.

“Listen up America, by the end of this year, and most definitely during 2011, you’re going to be bombarded with advertisements that stretch across all forms of media, tempting you to hop on board a 4G network,” he wrote in a Wednesday post. “Let’s get this out of the way right now: 4G, as the word is currently being used, is nothing but a marketing term.

The issue, he says, is not just one of semantics but also the official designation of 4G networks, which is made by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), one of the bodies “that is responsible for setting the technology standards that handset vendors and infrastructure providers follow so that their equipment actually works together.”

The ITU said in October 2009 that they’ve received six proposals for technology that deserve the 4G label, and that until it names which technologies get to use the 4G moniker, anyone claiming it is indulging in mere marketing.

“Clearwire,” he adds, “is building a WiMAX network, otherwise known as 802.16e. The second version of WiMAX, called WiMAX Release 2, but technically known as 802.16m, is up for consideration as proper 4G technology. What’s the difference? 802.16m is supposed to provide up to 1 gigabit per second speeds while you’re sitting at a fixed location and 100 megabits per second while you’re on the go. That’s a far cry from the “average mobile download speeds of 3 to 6 mbps and bursts over 10 mbps” that Clearwire said they’re achieving as of yesterday.”

Unfortunately, we’ll have to just take everyone at their word until we’re able to check out the new 4G devices for ourselves, as well as the networks that claim to support them. Still, even if the promise of truly blazing mobile-wireless speeds is a thing of the near future, companies like Clearwire appear to be serious about investing in the required infrastructure, which is not only great news for America, but is also incredibly fantastic news for porn!