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Fast, new wireless technology on its way to Columbia

Friday, December 17, 2010 | 6:25 p.m. CST; updated 5:28 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Fourth generation wireless, or 4G, is coming to Columbia for the first time. Full Stream Wireless plans to bring 4G to Columbia in 2011. Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Hill said that the mobile company also plans to extend its 4G service to Columbia no later than 2013. Although it has the service, Sprint does not offer 4G in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — The next generation of mobile Internet is faster, cheaper and coming to Columbia as soon as next year.

Fourth-generation wireless, or 4G, is the successor to the pervasive 3G technology that has been in use in cell phones since the early 2000s. 4G promises to bring speed close to that of a home cable or DSL connection to laptops and cell phones anywhere there is a 4G signal.

Wireless words

With all the buzzwords thrown around by cell phone companies, it's easy to get confused. Here's a quick reference guide for terms used when talking about mobile wireless:

4G — Fourth-generation mobile wireless. This is a name for a collection of technologies that provide fast Internet connections to cell phones and mobile devices.

3G — Third-generation mobile wireless. This is the most prevalent type of mobile Internet connection in Columbia right now. It offers slower speeds than 4G.

LTE — Long Term Evolution. This is a 4G technology in use by Verizon that broadcasts in frequencies that used to be occupied by analog, over-the-air TV.

WiMAX — 4G technology used by Sprint and local company Full Stream Wireless.

Modem — A device for accessing the Internet using a computer. A 4G modem connects to the Internet over the cell network and provides that connection to computers or other devices.

Broadband — High-speed Internet access. The primary Internet connection for most houses is either cable or DSL broadband. 4G lets people access similar speeds to home broadband on their phones and laptops.



Sascha Segan, mobile analyst for PCMag.com, said there are three main advantages to 4G. First, increased data rates mean files can download much faster over a 4G connection than a 3G one. This means users can watch a high-resolution video almost instantaneously instead of waiting for them to download, Segan said.

The second advantage is what's known as lower latency. This means the Internet feels more responsive, and video calls with applications like Qik on Android will have less delay between the person on one end speaking and the person on the other hearing it.

The final advantage is greater capacity. This means that 4G wireless can be used by more people at once than 3G.

Segan said the technology could help to supplant traditional, wired methods of connecting to the Internet on computers, replacing them with fast connections to the mobile Internet that consumers could take with them anywhere.

The new technology is, in many cases, cheaper too, allowing more gadgets than ever before to have persistent connections to the Internet. Clear, a wireless company that builds the 4G network for Sprint and sells its own separate service, offers unlimited 4G data in St. Louis for $45 per month, less than the Verizon 3G mobile broadband plan that costs $50 for up to 5 GB of data.

“Because 4G is cheaper to operate than 3G, you’re going to see wireless connections in a lot more devices, and you’ll hopefully see a lot more flexible wireless plans that will let users use bits of 4G when they want to,” Segan said.

There are many types of technology being branded as 4G. Verizon and AT&T will be using Long Term Evolution, or LTE. Sprint is using WiMAX. T-Mobile has a plan to speed up its existing 3G network to the point where it’s almost as fast as LTE and WiMAX, and has begun calling this upgrade 4G.

LTE uses the same frequencies as analog TV, which stopped broadcasting in June 2009. The Federal Communications Commission auctioned off licenses to broadcast on the frequencies previously held by analog TV stations in 2008, and those licenses were bought up by companies like Verizon, CenturyLink and U.S. Cellular in order to broadcast 4G service.

"We auction various licenses, placing each license up for bid," said Matt Nodine, chief of staff of the wireless telecommunications bureau at the FCC. "Based on the bids for certain licenses, some were apparently viewed as more valuable."

4G in Columbia

The company most likely to bring 4G technology to Columbia in 2011 is Full Stream Wireless. Started in 2006, the company has been developing the necessary software to run a WiMAX network in Columbia throughout this year, operations manager Richard Cravens said.

Other companies, such as CenturyLink and U.S. Cellular, own broadcasting rights in Columbia, but have yet to go public with their plans to bring service to consumers.

Full Stream Wireless is building an operations center in Columbia and will lease out space on existing cell phone towers to broadcast 4G Internet in Columbia, Cravens said. The company plans to partner with Tranquility Internet Services and other companies to deliver this service to consumers and businesses, eventually competing against larger telecommunications companies like Sprint and Verizon to deliver 4G service in Columbia.

Cravens said this approach has worked in the past with companies like Socket, a Columbia-based business that operates high-speed wired Internet in Missouri and competes against companies like CenturyLink. He also said that state grants to develop other types of Internet connections in Missouri, such as fiber optic, have largely gone to local companies, suggesting a trend towards local businesses in the telecommunications market.

"We’re a Missouri company, founded by Missourians, run by Missourians, and we think that’ll have real value in the market looking forward," Cravens said. "One of the most exciting things about this, and one of the reasons I got involved personally, is that this technology is going to open up a whole new way of thinking about applications."

WiMAX could be used by everyone from home users looking for an always-on Internet connection they could take with them anywhere, to a company with a fleet of vehicles that could have fast access to customer data while on the road, he said. 

“The big thing I think we’re bringing to market is mobility,” he said.

Most national mobile carriers have been targeting cities larger than Columbia to launch their 4G networks. Segan said carriers are starting off in cities that won't overwhelm the network but have enough people living there to use it.

“There’s a sweet spot in terms of population density where you get better payoff for your network build," Segan said. "That density is higher than Columbia and lower than New York City.”

One of the most valuable licenses was the regional block of frequencies that includes Missouri and parts of 10 other states. This block sold for more than $1.6 billion to Verizon Wireless, which launched 4G service in St. Louis on Dec. 5. Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Hill said that its network should extend into its existing 3G coverage area, including Columbia, by no later than 2013.

“Columbia, being a college town, we have a lot of demand for higher end data services,” Hill said. “I would expect that Columbia would go really well.”

Clear owns a license to broadcast in Columbia but currently only has service in Kansas City and St. Louis. Christopher Comes, a director of communication at the company, said that it would be technically feasible to extend service to Columbia, but there are no plans to do so at the moment.

The University of Missouri also owns a license to broadcast a 4G LTE signal in Columbia, according to FCC filings. Terry Robb, IT director of marketing and communications at MU, said while the university has owned broadcasting rights in the past, cellular data is not something they are planning to get involved in. Instead, the University sees it as an investment that may pay off in the future.

“We are investigating the possibilities of leasing our frequencies to a commercial carrier,” Robb said.


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Comments

Yves Montclear December 17, 2010 | 7:59 p.m.

4G technology, I want to be a believer. But I am from Missouri, and they are going to have to Show Me that it can keep up with the hype.

It sounds more to me like somebody selling 128K dialup modems back in the day. The number sounds better, surely it is so much faster, but the reality of the copper wire of the phone line, at its best, could come no where near 128K transmission rates, much less 56K transmission rates.

My point: 4G sounds too good to be true.

Almost everything I have read about 4G so far says it isn't true. It is a marketing tool, just like the 128K modem.

And while it might work (I want to believe) as advertised at the start, with only a few people on the network accessing resources, how will it work once millions of people are pounding that wireless network for those resources?

I 'harken' back to my days in electrical engineering school, and reading the specs for chips...operational amplifiers, even down to the trusty, simple resistor, you name it.

In ideal conditions the manufacturing company could maybe get those specs met, sometimes. But if you actually built something with their chips, and made them do something in the real world, those company specs were way off.

I believe 4G will turn out the same way, but I hope I am wrong. At least it is better than doing nothing. Even if 4G doesn't deliver on its promise, many things will be learned.

And if it puts people to work, so much the better.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne December 18, 2010 | 10:15 a.m.

"4G Is a Myth (and a Confusing Mess)"

http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/art...

(Report Comment)
Esten Hurtle December 18, 2010 | 10:28 a.m.

Mr. Flakne, thank you for commenting! I really appreciate you linking to that article, because it brings up an interesting point. The ITU's definition of 4G is something I didn't address in the article because most of what people will be calling 4G in the future is going to be defined by how the carriers market it. The IMT-Advanced standard is still several years out, and people will be using "4G" long before they're using the ITU's definition of 4G.

Yesterday, the ITU seemed to agree with that point, and decided that the label 4G "may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed."
(http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/12...)

I hope that helps explain some of the "confusing mess" of defining 4G!

(Report Comment)
Paul Wells January 5, 2011 | 4:49 p.m.

Good Article.
Thanks Mark for shining the light on the true definitions. It's good to know better things are on the horizon. I would definitely sign up for Home-Based 4G service when it gets here. I cannot stand how (almost) every ISP forces you to bundle services to get internet.

I bought an Evo "4G" phone, knowing that 4G may never be a reality. Even though the sales person claimed my $10 extra fee per month was for the "4G" and Columbia would have it "In a few Months". I was informed enough in July to know that COMO was on no such list, but I nevertheless wanted the phone for it's screen size and abilities.

Carriers and Agents need to be held accountable for misleading the public! It's almost as bad as buying a car!

(Report Comment)
Richard Cravens May 7, 2011 | 10:13 a.m.

Posted to the como-fiber group at groups.google.com this week:

"Tranquility Internet and Full Stream Wireless are currently completing technical trials for an initial WiMAX service offering for central Columbia. Pricing and service packages are under active development at this time, and we will provide availability information in the coming weeks as we transition to active service. Limited "early adopter" accounts will be available in the near future to allow Columbia information technology, software development and media services professionals to directly experience the benefits of WiMAX in their daily workflows. Retail availability will follow once all technical trials have been completed.

Full Stream has worked directly with Tranquility Internet on the initial Columbia roll-out preparations over the past year, leading to the integration of Full Stream's core Motorola WiMAX operations systems into a new Tranquility Internet datacenter in downtown Columbia. Full Stream will provide wholesale WiMAX services to ISPs and other resellers throughout the Central Missouri area as the network roll-out continues in coming months."

4G WiMAX service is definitely real, and is on the way for Columbia MO. Watch the Columbia Business Times and other media outlets for more news as we near the official launch of the system.

Richard Cravens
Full Stream Wireless

(Report Comment)
Richard Cravens July 26, 2011 | 11:31 a.m.

We are pleased to announce that Full Stream Wireless will begin to offer limited retail services in the Columbia and Ashland markets via our reseller partner Tranquility Internet Services starting August 15, 2011. Please see http://www.tranquility.net for more information as our system launch approaches.

Richard Cravens
Full Stream Wireless
sales@fullstreamwireless.com

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 26, 2011 | 12:35 p.m.

How much did you pay them to write that article?

(Report Comment)
Richard Cravens August 5, 2011 | 1:25 p.m.

Paul, we invite you to try our service August 15 - please contact Tranquility Internet Services for more information on or after that date - we're sure you'll be impressed with the technology.

Best wishes,

Richard

(Report Comment)

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