4G Will Really Be 3.5G

Next generation broadband -- commonly referred to as "4G" -- is technically supposed to deliver download speeds of 100Mbps. Current 3G speeds are about 2-3 Mbps. The first 4G mobile network is being deployed in in Sweden and Norway by TeliaSonera. Users in those markets will experience download speeds of 20 to 80 Mbps.

In the US all the hype surrounding mobile 4G is mostly just that -- hype. Speeds that mobile users in the US will experience will be a fraction of those now being offered in Scandanivia. Verizon's LTE deployments, rolling out later this year and next will offer actual speeds of 5Mbps to 12Mbps. Sprint WiMax promises "average download speeds of 3 to 6 mbps." Still that will be a meaningful improvement over what exists today.

Meanwhile US cable ISP providers are seeking to upgrade their networks to offer true 100 Mbps speed. According to an article in CNET, 100Mbps exists today.

From a technical standpoint, 100Mbps is achievable today. In fact, Cablevision is already offering a 100Mbps service, and Comcast, which has been offering 100Mbps to business customers since September in one test market, is about to launch 100Mbps service to consumers in several markets in the first half of this year.

Verizon Communications, which has deployed fiber directly to people's homes, doesn't offer 100Mbps service right now, but a company spokesman said such a service will be available soon. And Cox Communications, which is also upgrading its cable network, said it will have 100 Mbps service this year as well in some markets.

The article goes on to discuss the key issue: consumer pricing, which will make 100Mbps too costly (at least in the near term) for most US households. Prices will come down over time as competition heats up and consumer expectations evolve.

As speeds improve consumer behavior will continue to change, especially among mobile users. The faster that mobile (and WiFi) networks become the more people will turn to their handsets and other mobile devices (think iPad) before they go to the PC.