Wireless Internet Networks
If you plan to access the internet wirelessly (and if you’re reading this site, we’ll assume you do), you have a few options in terms of how you access it. There are a number of different networks you can connect to, each with their own pros and cons. Remember, when choosing a network you’ll want to keep three things in mind: technology (the gear you use to connect to the network), price, and location (some networks may not be available in your area yet).
The Types of Internet Networks
WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is often compared to Wi-Fi. Maybe it’s the “Wi” or maybe it’s the fact that both of them connect you to the same internet, either way, they aren’t exactly the same. WiMAX is kind of like super Wi-Fi. A typical Wi-Fi network has a limited range of a couple hundred feet at best. A WiMAX network has a much longer range—think city-wide coverage—offers faster speeds, and uses different technical protocols to connect you to the Internet.
LTE (long term evolution) is often marked as a 4G (fourth generation) network, because it’s faster and more advanced than 3G (third generation) networks, but its speeds and connections are actually classified as pre-4G, or sometimes beyond-3G. Though LTE is commonly seen as a mobile network—Verizon wireless announced LTE phones and plans to flesh out LTE coverage in 2011—the technology behind it is similar to WiMAX, which offers a Wi-Fi-like connection to the internet on a large scale. Full LTE networks are still developing, but predicted download speeds are as fast as 100Mbps, though most users will likely see speeds of 10 to 30Mbps.
4G is the one of the newest networks, promising a “fourth generation” of Internet connection with faster speeds and quicker downloads. As the successor to 3G and 2G networks, 4G will provide increased speed (up to four times faster than 3G) and network access to more than just smart phones, but also laptops, and other wireless devices. Speed projections for 4G are at 1Gbit/s for low mobility or stationary connections like homes and offices, and 100Mbit/s for mobile connections. 4G carriers are expected to roll out 4G supported devices in 2011.
3G is the third generation of standards for mobile phones and mobile telecommunications, and if you’ve purchased a smart phone in the last three or four years, you’ve probably used it. 3G brought the internet to your phone and made things like video on demand, mobile TV and media streaming, and location-based services possible. A new generation of mobile internet connection comes around every ten years (give or take a year or two); 3G first launched in 2000, so it’s on the way out. It won’t be completely phased out any time soon, but expect to see 4G ready devices alongside 3G offerings at retailers in 2011.