I have been using various forms of wireless data for nearly 20 years, starting with the first Mobitex networks with the precursors of the Blackberry that were the size of small bricks. Today was a major milestone for me: the first time that I got better speeds over my phone than my computer with a broadband cable modem over ordinary wires.
In my quick tests, my Charter 15 MB connection delivered about 9 MB for downloads, and about 3 MB for uploads. That is plenty fast for me, although I do notice that sometimes it is a lot slower. Which is what you would expect from a shared cable modem connection. Now, I could purchase a faster package from Charter, they have a variety of offerings even up to 100 MB down but still only 5 MB up. That is, if I wanted to try to take an hour to navigate their phone support.
My AT&T 3G iPhone delivered about 1 MB down and half a meg up. You could tell it was a lot slower. But the real champ was an LG Nitro AT&T 4G phone that I was testing: nearly 19 MB down and more than 5 MB up. Think about that for a moment, those are pretty impressive speeds. And the download is nearly twice as fast as my wired connection.
And it isn’t just me: PC World found multiple megabit speeds on the various 4G networks that it tested this week as well, with AT&T reaching close to 10 MB/sec averaged across 10 cities.
Watch a video? No problem and no pauses as it streams to my phone. Download a big fat file? Not a second thought.
At least until the bills come in for my data service. That’s the rub: never have we gotten this kind of performance over a cell phone before. But we can’t really use it, because all those “unlimited” data plans are going away, to be replaced with some pretty high per-MB plans. Several tech columnists have written stories about how they have burned through their monthly data allotments in the first day or so of usage. Not good.
Now, not all the American carriers are eliminating their unlimited data plans. Sprint, for example, will sell you an unlimited data plan for various 4G phones for as little as $70 a month with 450 talk minutes. The others are less generous, or have restrictions and lots of fine print. But Sprint has the poorest coverage of the four carriers in my area.
Probably a better way is to use one of the Clear.com devices. They offer unlimited 4G data for $50 a month, which is slightly more than what I am paying for my cable modem but I can take the little gizmo with me when I am on the road and avoid those annoying wireless data charges at various hotels and other hot spots. Until now I wasn’t so convinced that Clear was clearly for me. But after seeing those AT&T numbers, I am beginning to come around. Maybe wireless is the way to go.