Mobile Internet Technology

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    Definition

    • Mobile broadband refers to wireless, high-speed access to the Internet connected via a portable modem or satellite device. The mobile networks are built on the existing cellular architecture.

    Types

    • Satellite-Internet is available worldwide either via geostationary satellites (those that hover above the same spot on earth continuously) and low-Earth orbit satellites (LEO). Connections are expensive and, though they can peak at 100Mb/second downlink, the average user sees only 1Mb/second speeds. In the United States, the leading technologies are Evolution Data Optimized (EV-DO) and High Speed Packet Access (HSPA). Long Term Evolution (LTE) is the next step toward true, fourth-generation radio-wave data transmission. Sprint rolled out its infant LTE architecture in 2009.

    Devices

    • Any device with a modem capable of communicating with the chosen network can connect anywhere within that network's coverage area. Cellular modems capable of connecting to 3G networks come preloaded in many laptop computers, netbook computers, handhelds such as Apple's iPad and Amazon's Kindle and of course mobile phones. Computers without preloaded wireless modems (which differ from the wireless adapter that enables home users to connect to a wireless router over short distances) can still connect via a dongle, or USB connected modem.

    Future

    • LTE and WiMax are seen as competing technologies, but there is room for both to play in the market. LTE networks, built on existing cellular systems, offer truly mobile Internet while WiMax is more suited to "last mile" coverage as a replacement for cable and DSL.

      In the midst of this battle lies the growing fiber-optic network which could serve as the node-to-node transmission before WiMax beams the signal to the home. Fiber-optic lines have been the wave of the future since the mid-1990s. Rollout has been slow, and as over-the-air transmission improves, the owners of the pipes have been slow to deploy wholesale infrastructure changes for wired service.

      LTE is far superior in terms of cost, number of substations required and channel structure, which allows greater uplink and downlink times over the already built 3G networks. Many carriers around the world (including AT&T in the United States) will likely abandon 3G network improvements in favor of a jump to 4G LTE.

    Alternative

    • Municipal systems are in place in a handful of locales. These rely on substations that amplify a signal over distances from just one or a few sources. The idea was that every city in the world could build out a municipal system giving residents untethered Internet access anywhere in the city. The projects would be funded by a tax on utility bills or via property tax provisions. Pilot projects ran over budget and underperformed, so the dream of virtually free, universally available Internet as a city utility has been forced to face those harsh realities, though some smaller towns still have plans in the works.

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