In the next few years, the new 4th generation (4G) networks will do for mobile commerce what home broadband did for e-commerce a decade ago.
Along with everyone else in the mobile industry, I’ve been following the story of Verizon’s 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network that launched late last year in the U.S. Now that all the major carriers are saying they also have 4G, I wanted to shed some light on what 4G means to you and me.
Simply put, 4G will deliver mobile Internet speeds that come very close to that of home broadband connections. That means that if you’re using a 4G mobile device on a 4G network, you’ll be able to stream music and video, upload, download and surf the Web just about as fast as if you were at home. That’s a huge leap forward.
Once you dig deeper than that, 4G starts to get technical (not to mention confusing since there really isn’t a universally agreed-upon definition). Verizon is offering “real” 4G over its new LTE network. Sprint is offering similar speeds through WiMAX. AT&T and T-Mobile are claiming 4G-like services through 3.5G enhancements and HSPA+, which are probably unable to support the same type of speeds as true 4G for multiple users (though AT&T has announced plans to roll out an LTE network in the next few years).
These next-generation networks will bring consumers a much faster, smoother mobile experience, enabling more functionality and new applications. They’ll also make it easier for developers to create compelling user experiences on the mobile, which is a big stumbling block today.
At a Verizon 4G presentation I attended at the Open Mobile conference in San Francisco last November, presenters spoke about full-speed video with no buffering, fluid video conferencing, and downloading songs and images in seconds. One example they gave really stuck with me: doctors accessing large files of images in real-time while they’re talking to patients.
I believe the introduction of 4G is analogous to when home broadband became widely available roughly ten years ago, and consumers started replacing their dial-up connections with the faster service. That’s when Internet use by consumers really took off—and e-commerce came into its own. We didn’t care how about exactly how many times faster broadband was than dial-up. We didn’t care about the underlying technology. We rejoiced that the days of waiting five seconds for pages to load were over.
In the mobile world, 3G has driven more traffic and more sophisticated applications. 4G will bring even more consumers to the mobile Web, maybe even take us to the turning point on the J-curve where more people connect to the Internet through mobile networks than through fixed lines, on a combination of phones and tablets.
The fusion of those two things that 4G will bring—more mobile traffic and a better user experience—is going to increase consumer uptake of mobile commerce, including banking, shopping, payments and remittance. No doubt about it.
Of course, to use 4G, you have to have a device that supports it. Right now, there are few that do, but a slew of 4G phones and tablets are starting to hit the market… We’ll be watching.