Imagine sitting on the grass in a shady park, watching flawless high-definition television on your connected tablet. Imagine pausing the program and switching over to a video call from your mother.
Wireless carriers will be trying to capture your imagination and your dollars with rosy scenarios like this one, tempting you with cool new applications--or better old ones--that fully exploit the 10X speed increases promised by fourth-generation (4G) wireless networks.
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Already, US carriers like Sprint are extolling what they believe will be 4G's killer apps, but at this point it's a guessing game--and consumers will ultimately decide the winners. That said, it isn't too early to make educated guesses about where those killer apps might surface--and here are ours.
1. Live Mobile Video
Today, most mobile phones come with advanced cameras that can even shoot video, so it's no surprise that the next step in this area is to link video apps to mobile networks. In the earliest stages, advances may be as simple as using an Apple iPhone or a Google Android-based device to upload a cute clip of your kid to YouTube. But already, specialized application providers like Qik are offering services that support live streaming video from your mobile device to the Internet, theoretically transforming anyone carrying a smartphone into an instant on-the-spot news reporter.
Though such services may not appeal to everyone, professional broadcast teams are sure to move to 4G services when they become available. Theoretically, at least, the WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G networks now being built will be able to handle broadcast-quality data loads over much cheaper, faster, and more mobile connections than satellite trucks. One developer, Nomad Innovations, offers a WiMax-based modem that attaches to the back of a professional video camera, obviating the need for satellite connectivity in the field.
Forward-facing cameras in products like Samsung's Mondi mobile Internet device (MID) and the forthcoming HTC EVO 4G (both of which both run on the Clearwire/Sprint WiMax network) herald a boom in personal, on-the-go videoconferencing over services like Skype or Oovoo. Thanks to Verizon's recent deal to support Skype on its mobile devices, more people are likely to use the video capabilities of the popular Voice-over-IP program when Verizon launches its 4G network later this year.
2. Mobile/Portable Gaming
We expect gamers to develop a strong craving for the speed and mobility of 4G service. In the long term, online gamers may be the biggest users of portable 4G Wi-Fi routers like Sprint's Overdrive and Clearwire's Clear Spot, which receive swift 4G signals and then transmit them to gaming devices via a small Wi-Fi network. Since most gaming platforms have Wi-Fi connectivity built in, you can easily use the portable modem to share a 4G connection with five to eight different devices (depending on which modem you buy).
Using a portable "pocket spot" router to support ad hoc gaming parties over services such as Microsoft's Xbox Live is an obvious way to take advantage of 4G networks. Likewise, the improved latency of 4G networks seems tailor-made for online gaming, where faster network response times can mean the difference between (virtual) life and death. The Sprint HTC EVO 4G WiMax phone is supposed to include a built-in Wi-Fi router that can support up to eight additional devices, enabling it to act as a portable broadband hub for gatherings of gamers.