To 4G or not to 4G

For now, my 4G decision is easy because Verizon has already made it for me. It’s way too expensive and I have to wait because the service in the Boston area stops a few towns away from me.

But my wait for local service shouldn’t be too long: Verizon Wireless is promising to 4G-ize its complete 3G national footprint by 2013. And it’s already in 60 major U.S. cities. T-Mobile and Sprint off 4G service too, but Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe  reviewed all three and said Verizon Wireless is by far the fastest – at least in the greater Boston area.

Also, MetroPCS this week launched its $50 a month 4G service (look ma, no contract!) in the Boston area, offering it with one phone model. And that’s with an unlimited data plan when Verizon has capped data plans at $50 a month for 5 GB and $80 for 10 GB. After that at Verizon, you $10  per GB. Download a few 700MB movies and you it could be shelling out a lot.

Those prices and limitations are outrageous, in my opinion. The biggest impediment to fast broadband has nothing to do with technology. It’s price. Sometimes, I think Internet access is too important to be left to greedy corporations.  AT&T, whose network coverage and reliability just scored dead last in January’s Consumer Reports, won’t have 4G until next year.

Verizon Wireless doesn’t have any phones yet, which is the chief reason to go for 4G and not the $100 thumbstick modem which is the only 4G device it offers at this point.

Nonetheless,  4 G speeds are comparatively impressive. Verizon Wireless promises 5-12 Mbps downloads and 2-5 Mbps uploads, which is a huge improvement over 1-2 Mbps 3G. MetroPCS nevers talks about specifics speeds, but said it has deployed a 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network, which is the same technology as Verizon’s. No matter: MetroPCS’ says its coverage is “core” city which in the case of Boston is about 40 miles away from me.

Let’s face it: the Internet requires a lot of waiting on 3G smartphones which makes 4G very attractive. But frankly, 4G needs to play out more fully. After all, 4G service from Verizon is a week old and MetroPCS one day old at this writing. Sprint EVO 4G has been around for a year and T-mobile a few months.

The uncertainty and the relentless march of new and more expensive service is causing me to delay upgrading my ancient 3G Blackberry Curve for fear of committing (thanks, wretched contracts!!) to technology that’s new today but old after midnight. All the 2010 Android models from Verizon are slick but suffer from 3G’s relative  slowness. And of course, you have to replace 3G phones if you want to go to 4G.

If a company figured out how to provide the latest phones, great coverage, service with no contracts and more competitive pricing, they’d make a killing. MetroPCS seems part way there.

Then there’s the iPhone which is coming from Verizon Wireless – an unrealized rumor that has frustrated Verizon customers for two years.

So for now, I’ll wait for 4G to come to my town and hopefully get cheaper.

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