4G killer apps: A top five

We identify five areas of technology where popular apps are likely to succeed on 4G wireless networks

3. Cloud-Based Apps

Expanded 4G network use will make cloud computing--working with data and apps that are stored online--even more appealing than it is today, especially for enterprise professionals who need access to transaction-heavy applications that reside mainly on the Internet, such as Salesforce.com's CRM platform and various real-time collaboration platforms. If the broadband pipe from the cloud to the mobile device gets ten times fatter, cloud services will become considerably more reliable, functional, and secure for mobile users.

And though they may not call it "cloud computing," consumers of all types are likely to make heavy use of faster mobile connections to stream full-length television shows and movies from sites like Hulu.com and Netflix.com.

Some college campuses are already exploring ways to combine 4G networks with portable computers or tablets like Apple's iPad to replace physical textbooks.

Magazine and newspaper publishers hope that 4G connections and new product designs (like the iPad) will allow them to charge for premium content, enriched with elements such as video and photos, that will require a faster broadband connection than the 3G link used to upload digital books to e-book readers like Amazon's Kindle.

4. Navigation With Augmented Reality

Navigation applications, which are typically married to expandable/zoomable maps such as Google Maps, are among the most popular downloads for 3G devices like the iPhone. With the promise of greater bandwidth on 4G networks, navigation application providers are already exploring the idea of "augmented reality," in which a device will be able to present real-time visual data using a phone's live camera and its positioning or GPS information.

End-user benefits range from modest--for example, the ability to point your phone down the street to see where the closest Starbucks is--to extremely powerful. As an example of the latter, imagine 4G-enabled helmets that can project a building infrastructure diagram onto a firefighter's visor to help them make their way through a smoke-filled building. Augmented-reality navigation applications will probably grow more popular and more widespread as in-car systems such as Ford's Sync and General Motors' OnStar permit integration between such apps and improved displays, antennas, GPS systems, and power plants inside vehicles.

5. Emergency Response and Telemedicine

Even before the FCC breaks ground on its proposed separate 4G network for first responders, you can expect local police departments, fire departments, and medical institutions to invest heavily in 4G-based systems aimed at providing better, faster, and less expensive medical and emergency care.

Networking giant Cisco and service provider AT&T are already developing special gear and services for health-care operations, taking advantage of 4G networks' ability to transfer large files (like X-rays) quickly, and to provide interactive video for remote physician monitoring and direction. The expected proliferation (and subsequent cost reduction) for 4G deployments should also make it easier for rural communities to set up remote health centers, where doctors could "visit" patients via teleconference-like facilities. Ongoing government grants and stimulus funds should help pay for such civic-minded applications of 4G technology.

Paul Kapustka is editor and founder of Sidecut Reports, an independent research firm that specializes in wireless technologies.

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Paul Kapustka

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