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Are 4G Wireless Networks The Future Of Web Access?

At a conference in South Korea, engineers discussed the future of fourth-generation wireless networks, one of the most powerful on the planet. Telecom providers hope this will become the next wave in Internet access, enabling people to open a laptop anywhere and be immediately surf the Web, download music or stream movies on what could be the fastest broadband connection in the world. Providing Internet access is big business across the globe--in the U.S. alone the market is estimated at $60 billion. The problem is, there are several competing technologies--and no one is certain which one will come out on top.

Samsung's fourth-generation wireless network is one solution. So is WiMAX, another wireless technology being developed by Clearwire, Intel and other investors. Telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast are also pouring billions into making their broadband cable networks faster. Many of these companies' efforts will flounder, as the cost of upgrading these networks is enormous; some will be forced to pass those costs on to consumers, resulting in high fees. Skeptics of 4G networks and other wireless technologies--which have so far failed to become a major force in Internet access--say fixed-line access through cable and DSL modems will continue to be cheaper and faster. Some analysts agree.

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"Four-G is just much ado about nothing," said Edward F. Snyder, an analyst at Charter Equity Research. "There's no business model here, just a lot of marketing and hot air." One thing 4G is expected to be is fast. To qualify for 4G status, a network must be able to transmit one gigabit, or 1 billion bits of data, per second. That means you could download an entire movie in six seconds.

Read the whole story at The New York Times »

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