In the past year, the US cell phone companies have been building out their wireless high-speed networks. The theory is these networks will keep us connected even when wireless hotspots aren't available by using your cell phone or a PC card. This is a great convenience for mobile professionals who need to access work files or the web. The carriers also have new services such as streaming videos that take advantage of the faster speeds.
These wireless broadband networks have speeds that are many times faster than typical cell phone connections, but the throughput rates can differ dramatically. One difference is the protocol your cell carrier uses. In the US, the predominant standards are CDMA and GSM. Each of these standards has their own high-speed protocol. In some regards, this is like DSL and cable access. Both offer high-speed access at different rates and each requires their own equipment.
As you may have discovered when trying to switch cell phone carriers, sometimes you need a new phone. Although your carrier may have this high-speed option, it doesn't mean it works on your current cell phone. Unlike your notebook, you can't buy hardware to add to your cell phone. Instead, you need to have a phone with the required hardware. The good news is even though the phones are more expensive, the carriers usually subsidize your purchase if you're a new customer. After all, they anticipate a nice revenue stream from data subscription plans. Sorry, but speed comes with a cost.
In the CDMA world, the high-speed wireless protocol is called EvDO. Like many abbreviations, this one has two translations: Evolution Data Optimized and Evolution Data Only. The main national carriers include Verizon and Sprint although there are some regional ones.
Using our previous DSL and cable reference, you could say that EVDO is more like cable since it is the faster of the two protocols. While I've seen references that mention burst speeds up to 2Mbps, the typical download speed is often cited in the 300-700 kbps range. The upload speed, which is usually lower on most systems, is about 50-100kbps.
As with many new technologies, they don't arrive at everyone's doorstep at the same time. While Verizon and Sprint have been building their networks, EvDO coverage isn't everywhere. Typically, the carriers do a staged rollout that involves a testing and tweaking period.
One benefit to carriers bringing more consumers online is the phone manufacturers begin to offer more EvDO phones. The pickings are small, but growing. You'll also find that most carrier websites don't make it easy to find these phones. I still find it easier to search eBay for cell phones for specific features such as EvDO.
If you already have an EvDo-capable phone, you may need to do a PRL update to see the signals. If the phones don't detect EvDO, they are designed to work on the slower networks. As the carriers expand their networks, you should consider updating the PRL every couple of months to make sure you have the new cell tower locations.
Update: Feb 10,2007: Both Sprint and Verizon have been deploying EVDO Revision A or Rev A in various cities. This newer technology is roughly 5 to 6 times faster than EVDO.
Not to be overlooked, the GSM world has its own protocol and acronym EDGE. EDGE stands for Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution. Although it is much slower than EvDO, it does offer some advantages. EDGE coverage may be greater although it is difficult to tell from the vendor maps. The main EDGE carriers include Cingular and T-Mobile.
Another advantage is there are more EDGE compatible phones so in theory it's easier to find a phone with the features you like. As with the CDMA carriers, we had a hard time searching for phones by this feature. In some cases, the carrier's phone detail page failed to mention EDGE. Some cell phone manufacturers such as Nokia have provided their own page.
As with many network connections, it's difficult to tell if you'll get the maximum throughput of 384k for downloads. Carrier spec sheets usually cite 70-135kbps with bursts to 200kbps.
If you've been browsing web pages on a cell phone with a 14.4 data connection, you'll be pleased with either EDGE or EvDO. You'll find your download times are considerably less. You can get a useful traffic report while you're stuck in the jam.
Last Updated (Friday, 02 October 2009 08:52)