How 4G mobile networks are changing our lives

One of the leaders in 4G, VerizonWhen the iPhone 5 was announced, many people wondered how its many incremental changes would allow Apple to take the lead again in the smartphone market.

Of all the changes, there is one feature that will be the most important, and will most impact the impression of the public: 4G.

The 4G radio upgrade that allows the iPhone to access this much faster internet connection (in some cases, faster than the cable connection in our houses) will completely change the user experience in more ways that we realize. The same can be said for any mobile device that is 4G capable, and as more companies upgrade their technology, this new connection standard will revolutionize the way we interact with the world.

A brief history of network connection speeds

To understand the gravity of the 4G breakthrough, we have to look back a bit at the first connection revolution: broadband internet access. When the internet first began, and users eventually got access to it right from their own homes, the dial-up connection was extraordinarily slow. You had to wait minutes just to load the login page for email, not to mention the fact that you had to give up a phone line to do it. This meant that most people didn’t use the internet to constantly surf content, and webpages were basic so that things were easier to load over the poor connection.

When the broadband connection was created and the technology became more and more popular, it completely changed the way that companies created content online. Sites like YouTube and Facebook were becoming media moguls, and the availability of a faster connection opened up options for companies that were not previously available. They used these new options to completely revamp the usefulness of the internet, and it changed the way we interacted with the world.

All of a sudden, it became more convenient to jump on a shopping website to find a product than it was to go to a physical store.

All of a sudden, it became more convenient to jump on a shopping website to find a product than it was to go to a physical store. Information from Google was mere seconds away, so going to the library became obsolete. Watching a movie was as simple as a few clicks, and some momentary loading, the need to run to the store for a rental was all but eliminated. Even chatting with your friends became easier to do with your internet connection, so social sites exploded all over as people logged in from home.

A ton of content started to become available, and over the evolution of the speed in the past ten years, websites like Netflix and Hulu have been able to build their media-based companies because of this better technology. Even things like email and search have become so easily accessible and convenient that it is our preferred way of contacting people and finding information.

If the slow speeds of previous internet connections had stayed the same, almost none of the things that we do now would be possible. Even if the information was out there, nobody would have the patience to access it, and no company would invest time in creating content for something so difficult to access.

The mobile revolution

The next biggest jump in how we access information and interact with the world was the smartphone. Phones such as the iPhone began to bring search, maps, and informational apps to the finger tips of their owners. This certainly has been a revolution as smartphones and tablets have become faster and more reliable, and more interaction with the internet has been on-the-go. These incredibly convenient tools that were available online (search, money conversion, Wikipedia, distance calculators, etc) were starting to be put into sleek and easy to use smartphone apps. The added convenience of having them on your phone brought their usability to a new level, and the smartphone market sky rocketed.

However, when smartphones leave the safe haven of a high speed wifi connection for a standard mobile data network, things go downhill pretty quickly. It is something that we have become somewhat used to, and we forgive the slow network speeds because we realize this is the price for the convenience of accessing this information while being mobile. Sure, it might take a little extra time to load those pictures or get your Google search result, but it is much better than not having any access at all.

4G is going to change all of that in the same way that broadband changed the way we use our computers and the internet.

4G is going to change all of that in the same way that broadband changed the way we use our computers and the internet. One of the easiest ways to see this is to take Netflix as an example. Their apps for Android and iOS are fantastic, and when you have a wifi connection you have thousands upon thousands of video options for entertainment. When you leave that wifi connection, your willingness to wait for that video to buffer becomes much less, and in the end you end up using it almost not at all. This is just like dial-up, it would load if you were willing to have some patience, but for many websites it just wasn’t worth the wait.

With the faster 4G connection, once again, sites such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and even Facebook, are going to be able to pump out media to their users. It will also allow every single website to increase their complexity, and put out mobile versions of their sites that will be much more satisfying to the user. The lag that we experience now has already started to become a thing of the past, and children that are young now will not be able to remember the time they couldn’t get access to a site or video instantly via a mobile device.

How mobile device companies are cashing in

Since 4G is fairly new and much of the public isn’t entirely sure what it means for them, companies like Apple are cashing in on the new technology. In the iPhone 5, the improved processor will certainly add some juice for dealing with software running on the phone, but the 4G connectivity will pick up any remaining slack. To many users, this will be all part of the “Apple experience”, and many will attribute the improved speeds to be the result of the processor and the device itself.

Instead of marveling at the speed the phone brings down data in the browser, people will think, “Wow, Apple made the iPhone 5 a lot faster!” The same can be said about any other 4G device that is out on the market today.

Meanwhile, we have moved past the strict need for faster processors on phones as most new mobile devices can handle a very significant amount of software and usage without having a lag. Incremental processor updates will certainly still help development of software, but the 4G network is what is going to vastly improve the user experience.

4G’s impact on the future of software

One of the interesting aspects of this improved connection is just how much it will change the software world in the future. Right now, we see many companies transitioning to cloud-based solutions, but with a typical 3G connection, this can be very limited. With faster internet connection speeds, companies like Apple and Microsoft have the ability to build cloud-based operating systems that are shared between the mobile platforms and the computers.

Apple’s mobile operating system iOS and their desktop operating system Mac OS have been converging for years now, and with Windows 8, Microsoft is taking that a step in that direction as well. Processors in mobile will certainly still play a role in this development, but the fact is that these companies can take a huge load off of the devices backs by creating server-side software that is network dependent.

With potential 100Mbps download speeds, downloading pieces of your desktop operating system doesn’t seem too far fetched anymore.

The dreaded data caps

The biggest concern right now is how mobile carriers are capitalizing on this improved network connection. Using incredible amount of data on a network is something that is relatively new, and knowing that more people are going to be switching to 4G for the speed, companies are beginning to charge more for data instead of less. Verizon and AT&T previously offered unlimited data plans for around $30 per month, and for anyone who used their mobile device a lot, this was more than worth it. However, in recent years they have implemented a max plan of 2GB for around the same price, and for these years it hasn’t caused that much of an uproar. Unless you were a diehard mobile device addict, having 2GB of data seemed like more than enough.

Many people hoped that, as faster data connections were made available, data caps would also increase to support the increased throughput. It isn’t very hard to use 2GB of mobile data anymore, and with increasingly data-intensive applications coming out every day, it is more likely that even the average person will use 2GB in a month.

With the increasing popularity of 4G, mobile carriers seem to be trying to squeeze every penny out of their customers.

With the increasing popularity of 4G, mobile carriers seem to be trying to squeeze every penny out of their customers. Capped data has continued to be the norm, but it won’t stay that way for very long. The more that people transition to 4G, and the more data that is used, the more people will start to demand better prices for it.

The same thing happened with text messaging once people started to realize how obnoxiously over priced an individual text message cost. Now, unlimited text messaging plans are the most efficient, and they have made text messaging one of the preferred ways of contact for millions of people across the country.

Hopefully the same thing will happen with mobile data, but we do have to take into consideration that the phone companies are running out of things to charge for. Now that the primary use of mobile phones has changed from voice calls to things like streaming video, sharing rich media, and browsing the web, carriers want to find new areas to rake in the profit. Unfortunately, for the time being, data is that area.

So where does that leave us?

Even with data caps, 4G will be a driving power behind the technology of tomorrow. The increased network speed will unlock thousands of potential options for small and large businesses alike. Our transition from laptop devices to fully capable mobile devices will continue, and with speeds this impressive, we will see the transition faster than previously thought.

Before long, something like Google’s Project Glass, with an augmented reality system that constantly shows you information about the world around you, will be an every day item. With more powerful processors, and better hardware, companies have been trying to pack all of their punches into on board software. Now, that approach has become much more flexible, and our future hardware world will be most likely be much better complimented by full feature options available virtually instantly through your mobile network.

Image Credit: Flickr.com Creative Commons

Verizon Starts Throttling Top 5% of Data Users

It wasn’t too long ago when AT&T announced they would be throttling the data speed of their top 5% of heaviest data users. While Verizon announced that they would be doing this to their users back in February, it looks like they have decided to finally start putting their plan into action before AT&T starts doing it next month.

As of Thursday, September 15th, Verizon began to implement their “Network Optimization Practices” by throttling the top 5% of their heaviest data users. However, this only applies to unlimited 3G users. 4G LTE and tiered data users are not included.

It might also be important to note that Verizon’s method of throttling their users is a bit different from AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s:

“The difference between our network optimization practice and throttling is about network intelligence. With throttling, your wireless connection is slowed down for your entire cycle, 100% of the time, no matter where you are. Network Optimization balances the best possible experience on the network and for the customer. Network Optimization Practices is more precise and requires more management than throttling, however it provides the greatest balance for everyone. So, if you’re in the top 5% of data users, your connection is slowed only when you are in a congested cell site.”

All of these new throttling policies by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are being implemented within weeks of the expected launch of the iPhone 5. Back in May, Verizon said it expected to participate in a simultaneous launch of the new iPhone with AT&T and possibly Sprint.

Verizon has posted an in-depth FAQ about their Network Optimization Practices. You can read it here.

Samsung Galaxy S II Phones Finally Land On U.S. Soil

Back in May, South Korea and the United Kingdom were the first territories to get their hands on Samsung’s Galaxy S II smartphone, which was announced in February. More countries were slowly being added to the list, with Canada being the first North American country to receive the phone in late July. Finally, we Americans can now join in on the hoopla.

Samsung will be releasing the Galaxy S II for AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, but mysteriously not for Verizon. All three models will sport a Super AMOLED Plus display with Sprint’s model (called the Epic 4G Touch) getting the larger screen size of the three at 4.52 inches. AT&T and T-Mobile will carry the smaller, but still huge 4.3-inch variant. Sprint’s version will also be packing a slightly larger, 1800 mAh battery compared to the thinner, 1650 mAh battery that AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s model will carry. And you bet that AT&T’s taking advantage of that fact by giving it the title of “thinnest 4G smartphone.”

Other than that, the three Galaxy S II models are no different from each other. They all sport a 1.2 GHz Exynos dual-core processor with 1 GB of RAM, as well as 16 GB of internal storage and an 8 MP camera on the back (2 MP on front).

Sprint is the only one so far that has announced pricing and availability — September 16th for $199. AT&T and T-Mobile says they’ll release their Galaxy S IIs “soon.”

If your curious mind is aching for a better look at these three phones, look no further than right here on the Internet, which has gladly provided us with plenty of hands-on photos and videos.

Also, if you’ve been in the market for a brand-new Android smartphone or if you’re wanting to get a great deal on an older phone, now is the time to get serious.

AT&T To Throttle Top 5% of Heaviest Unlimited Data Users

If you’re one of the veteran AT&T users that have been grandfathered into an unlimited data plan and are set to stream all-you-can-play TV shows, movies, and music from your smartphone, be prepared to have your data speed throttled if you make it into the top 5% list of AT&T’s heaviest unlimited data users come October 1st.

However, AT&T will be kind enough to give you multiple warnings and a grace period before they start throttling you down, and they will also restore you back to full speed once your next billing cycle starts.

So what would it take to get you in the top 5% of AT&T’s heaviest unlimited data users? Well, AT&T claims that 98% of their data customers don’t use more than 2GB, so it’s safe to assume that if you use any more than that, be careful.

AT&T hasn’t spoken yet on exactly how much they’re going to throttle speeds by, but we do know that T-Mobile, which is currently in a merger deal with AT&T, throttle their heavy data users down to EDGE speeds, so it’s possible we could see the same from Big Blue.

How to Profit from the AT&T/Alltel Merger

Now that AT&T may be acquiring T-Mobile, their acquisition of Alltel in a few states since the Verizon/Alltel merger is old news. By now everyone has pretty much figured out the jig. Every current Alltel customer gets a free AT&T phone because the two networks use different technologies, and a current Alltel phone won’t work on AT&T’s network (CDMA and GSM stuff).

Recently, I stumbled into a situation that allowed me to cash in on this situation and I hope someone else might be able to take advantage of it as well.

Selling Your Old Phone Online

First,  my current Alltel phone stopped working. Knowing the network switchover was going to happen soon, I didn’t want to spend the money on insurance – I think it’s around $100 – to get a new phone for only a month. My contract was up, so I went in to see if I could just get it renewed and get a cheap phone along with it.  The guy at the store said they were no longer renewing plans since the network switchover was happening so soon, but that he could just give me a phone at the renew price. I thought this was great and picked up a HTC Desire for $75.

After getting home and playing with my new phone for a while, I started to wonder what I was going to do with this phone after the switch. I remembered seeing a website where you can sell your electronics called Gazelle. Curious, I went to the site typed in my new phone to see what I could get for it. The site asks you some basic questions such as what condition it’s in and if you have the original manuals and stuff like that. Turns out, the thing was worth around $250!

So now when the switch happens, I can sell this phone and be up $175 from what I was. But what about insurance? What if I “lost” this phone? I could take the insurance and hypothetically sell it as well for another $250. It’s an option I’ve decided against, but would assume it’s entirely possible.

It’s not by any means guaranteed though. Many of the Alltel stores don’t have a lot of phones left. They are just pretty much selling the inventory they have until it’s gone, so the phone selection is pretty slim. Before doing this, make sure the phone you plan on selling is actually worth something. For example, the Blackberry Pearl pretty much has no value on Gazelle. If you do have one of those phones that aren’t worth a lot of money, then you might be able to haggle your way into a cheap phone similar to the way I did. I would think it’s in the stores’ best interest to sell the phones while they still can. It might be worth a try.

It’s also important to note that the more of a product that gets sold to the site, the more the value goes down. I’m assuming once the switchover has happened everywhere (it’s taking longer in some places) the value may drop sharply. If this sounds like something you want to do, make sure and do some research to see what the phones actually worth.

It would also be in your best interest to take a good look at your phone insurance policy. I can only imagine that falsely losing a phone in order to get a new one to sell it might be some kind of insurance fraud and that’s never a good thing.

So there you go, a way to make a few dollars off this phone switching fiasco. Nothing is guaranteed, but why not give it a shot to see if you can land yourself a nice phone for cheap while the gettin’s good? You can either sell it in the end or continue to use it (the Desire can run off wifi) as an MP3/Angry Birds player.

Motorola Atrix – The Future of Mobile Computing

With practically everything available at our fingertips via smartphone, “What could the mobile market possibly do next?” I thought. We have 1 GHz processors in most new smart phones, an incredibly powerful, ever-growing Android OS, the simple and beautiful iOS 4, turn-by-turn navigation, mobile Google Docs, 4G wireless connections, video chat, 720p video recording, 1080p video output via HDMI, and a gigantic avenue of applications. It’s everything I ever wanted in my phone.

Then I started thinking:  My desktop computer usage has been cut in half since I purchased a Droid Incredible. Since my phone practically does everything I need, on a daily basis, what more could the mobile world offer me?  Motorola, yet again, had an answer to my question:

The Motorola Atrix.

Motorola claims the Atrix is the world’s most powerful phone. Okay, but I’ve heard that before. But when they add, “and the Future of Mobile Computing,” what do they mean? I kept reading article after article and watched video after video on the Atrix. I couldn’t believe it. Motorola has brought the mobile market into the future.

The Motorola Atrix is a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 powered smartphone with a 4-inch qHD (quarter high-definition) screen with a resolution of 960 x 540, 1 GB of ram, a huge 1930 mAh battery, a 6 mega-pixel rear facing camera and a front facing VGA, a fingerprint scanner, and Android 2.2.

These stats are trivial at CES. Almost every device has similar specs coming out this quarter, but the specs are not that mind-blowing unless you lived under a rock for the last year. With the Atrix, though, Motorola sold me with its Web-top. (I know, it’s a terrible name for a future in the mobile market.)

Web-top is Motorola’s idea of the future of mobile computing. Right now, the average technologically savvy person carries at least two devices, a laptop and a phone. The reason is our phones, although very powerful, cannot run full operating systems like Windows, Linux, or Mac. Or at least they couldn’t before Motorola’s Atrix. Motorola has taken those two devices and created one device to cater to both mobile and desktop users under the Web-top platform. The Atrix will function as a regular, yet powerful Android device on a daily basis. Yet when you get to home or to the office, you plug the Atrix into a “dumbtop,” also known as a laptop shell with only a battery and a screen. It has no processor.

Very slim, portable lapdock

This is where the magic happens. Within seconds, the “dumbtop” comes to life. Using the processing power in your Motorola Atrix and charging it at the same time, Web-top opens into a customized Linux OS with the desktop version of Mozilla Firefox and other supported programs Motorola has built-in. You can navigate through this interface via the typical laptop touch pad and full keyboard.

Using Web-top, you can go about the daily work you do with your laptop or desktop. At the end of the day, pull the phone out, go home and load the EXACT same environment you were running at work to your screen at home with either the laptop dock or the HDMI dock that allows you to connect to any of your HDMI enabled screens. The Atrix will remember everything you had open last! It becomes, in every sense of the word, a “pocket computer.” The very concept makes your phone become your ONLY powered device you need anywhere.

Conclusion

I think I see the future of mobile computing clearer now than ever before. It will not need to be called “mobile” computing anymore because everything will be mobile. The fact that Motorola can get Linux to run well on a Tegra 2 processor means that all those hard-working open source Linux gurus like the Ubuntu team will be hard at work very soon to create an incredible operating system that could be used in the amazing and powerful future of mobile computing. Microsoft also sees this as they are building their Windows platform to run on ARM architecture now.

This phone is available for pre-order through AT&T, but just keep in mind that smart phones are pricey when they first hit the market. The Atrix sells for $199.99 with a two-year contract and a bundled package gives you the laptop dock as well for $299.99 with a tethering add-on and after a $100 mail-in rebate. If you don’t want to pre-order, the phone should be available in stores on March 6.

More Information

How to Install Google Android on the HTC Kaiser (AT&T Tilt)

htc-androidEdit: Android can now be directly installed to NAND on the Kaiser. Flashing to NAND will allow direct booting to Android and complete replacement of Windows Mobile. NAND installation requires a HardSPL, while the method described below does not. For details on NAND flashing, please check this thread.

Since its launch, Google’s open-source linux-based mobile OS, Android, has been a welcome addition to the market. During the past few months, enterprising hackers have been working to get Android running on phones which do not natively run the OS.

There are currently a number of phones which are capable of running Android, and this guide will specifically walk through the details of getting Android running on the HTC Kaiser (AT&T Tilt).

Things you’ll need:

  • A supported phone
  • At least a 512 MB micro SD card formatted with FAT 32 with enough space for the Android files.

Android requires a set of files in order to run properly:

  • zImage – This is the linux kernel
  • system.img/sqsh – This file stores the UI and some OS files
  • default.txt – This file has the linux boot parameters.
  • Initrd.gz – init ramdisk
  • rootfs.img/sqsh – Root filesystem image
  • user.conf – This may also be included. It allows you to run shell scripts upon system startup.
  • haret.exe – this is the Linux bootloader. You’ll need this to boot Android from within Windows Mobile.
  • media folder – This contains android default ringtones and other media.

Limitations of current Android builds on the HTC Kaiser:

  • Directly booting to Android (Must boot via haret.exe)
  • The camera does not work
  • Bluetooth does not work

A Few Notes Before Installation

By installing Android, you will not actually replace Windows Mobile. You must boot to Android via the linux bootloader (haret.exe). While it is an inconvenience to not have direct booting to Android available, this does mean that you can run Android on a completely unmodified phone.

Installing Android

Current packages can be found in the xda-developers forums: http://forum.xda-developers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=602

To install, unpack the package or assemble the files needed and place them in the root of your SD card. Once done, open haret.exe and select Run. Android should begin booting at this point. If it is your first boot it may take longer since it needs to create the data.img file which will contain all of your downloaded apps and settings.

Once booted, you’ll be prompted to login to your Google account. If you do not have one, there is an option to create one. In order to login or create a Google account, you’ll need to ensure the data connection is working. If it is not working you can skip the account login process and enable your data connection.

If your connectivity is not working after the initial installation, you may need to update or add your carrier APN. To do so, navigate to Settings > Wireless Controls > Mobile networks > Access Point Names then click the menu button and select New APN and enter in your carrier APN info (APN Carrier Info is available here: http://www.androidonhtc.com/old/carrier_network_settings). Once the APN information is in, you can test the connectivity with the Modem application.

With the data connection working, you can then login to your Google account. This will pull down all of your emails and contact information from Gmail. To ease the process of getting your contacts into your Android phone, you can import them into Gmail. (Guide here: http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=8301).

Once you’re connected with your Google account you can enjoy the full glory of your new Android phone.

I highly recommend browsing through the market and checking out the apps available. Here are a few of my favorite picks:

  • Twidroid – Twitter Application
  • ConnectBot – SSH Terminal Application
  • Google Voice – Google Voice Application
  • The Weather Channel – Weather Application
  • Pandora – Pandora Music Application

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.