With today's phones, 4G is the fastest. But, all things considered, is the fastest speed automatically the best option? I've wondered about that for awhile. More recently, I noticed a writer in Europe -- which is, of course, another world as far as cell phone service and providers goes -- expressing a similar sentiment:
"4G can do more with the radio spectrum than 3G, but this cleverness comes at the a cost: it requires much more processing power to cope with the surge in data and the electronics will draw more current. This is straightforward physics and - even if mobile networks had no legacy baggage -- a 4G network would deplete your battery faster than 3G. The technology in the handset will improve and become more efficient, but that's no use to us here and now.
"The question you then have to ask is -- do you really really need that extra speed? When HSDPA+ has proved more than adequate? Personally, I'm struggling to think of applications where I'm prepared to trade off weight and power drain against that speed. If you're only ever sat beneath a 4G network mast, and with a briefcase full of power chargers, the question may be a moot."
In a follow-on post, he added:
"The first is that 3G has far more life in it than we thought. Aware that they'll be getting a marketing pounding from EE, which has an exclusive on LTE in the UK for some months, rival 3G operators have quietly been upgrading to the latest and much faster version of 3G. The latest flavour of 3G, dual-channel HSPA+, delivers quite amazing speeds on Three's network.
"My personal choice is for near-4G data speed when I need it and a phone that lasts all day, as opposed to 4G speed and a phone that craps out towards the end of a long lunch while rinsing me of all my cash."
Though I don't disagree with the author's point, I've found I need the speed. With all the travel I do, I need a fast, reliable network connection. Here in the U.S., I never saw decent 3G speeds on any handset that I tried, so 4G LTE is the only choice for me. For me 4G is like having a cable modem in my pocket. Hotel Wi-Fi is frequently heavily saturated and barely usable, especially at night when everyone's back in their rooms, trying to access the hotel’s network. Client sites can be hit or miss as far as external network access. There's also the issue of restrictions on Internet use. More than once I couldn't access Google Search due to a client's internal filters. If you've read this blog for awhile, you know that I often turn to Google when I encounter a technical issue I haven't seen previously.
Thankfully, I can use my phone as a mobile hotspot. This provides me with fast, reliable network access when I'm at the hotel, the airport or a customer site. Of course, the author is correct about 4G and battery life. Even with a 3200 mAh extended battery, your phone will drain in a hurry if you run it as a hotspot for any length of time. I don't know of any mobile worker who walks around with a charger plugged in all day, and swapping batteries and using external battery packs aren't elegant solutions either.
The point is, for average daily usage -- a few calls, texts, emails and file transfers -- 4G is great, but perhaps speed isn't the primary consideration for most users. Certainly I rely on 4G, but cost and access are still important to me, even if I have to make them less of a priority. I have an unlimited data plan -- or so my provider tells me. I find though that after some arbitrary amount of data has been used each month, my speeds get throttled.
Like every user, I'd love unlimited everything: minutes, texts and data, along with the fatest speed available and acceptable battery life at a reasonable price. 4G's cleverness may come at a cost, but at this point, I feel I have no choice but to pay that fare.
So where does 4G rate with you? Are there other ways to get onto the network I should consider?