Some background: We veteran tech reporters have grown accustomed in recent years to watching flashy demonstrations where wireless companies show us how they're able to stream high-definition video over wide areas without any jitter or dropped coverage. But such demonstrations were noticeably absent from this week's 4G World in Chicago because these 4G technologies that have been hyped for years have now largely matured.
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After all, the past year has seen both AT&T and Verizon commercially deploy LTE services in major U.S. markets, while Sprint and Clearwire have steadily expanded their WiMax footprint to cover all major American markets. So while past 4G conventions brimmed with buzz about the high speeds and strong coverage that LTE and WiMax would provide, company representatives at this year's 4G World took a step back and reflected on what they'd already accomplished in deploying 4G services.
"The range of customer problems that you can solve and when you can connect a 4G network to something that sits behind a corporate firewall is exciting," said Alan Panezic, Research in Motion's vice president of software. "To me personally, the way I think about 4G is that it's Wi-Fi without all the thinking, because it works everywhere. I have Wi-Fi speeds wherever I go."
Ira Gorelick, a senior manager of business development at Verizon Wireless, had similar thoughts about the significance of 4G services and he said it would change users' expectations for the quality of service that wireless coverage could provide.
"The thing I like about 4G as opposed to Wi-Fi is I don't have to log back in every 100 meters," he said.
And now that carriers and device manufacturers had done the big work of getting 4G networks and devices up and running, they focused more this week on discussing the comparatively smaller work of how to expand coverage by freeing more spectrum or offloading traffic onto femtocells. In fact, LTE and WiMax this week took a backseat to near-field communications (NFC) as the most buzz-worthy technology of the conference.