We recently purchased a 4G mobile hotspot from Verizon. It’s a tiny thing with magical powers. With just one press of a button, it turns the immediate area around it into a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can plug it into a power source, or it will run on batteries for about 4 hours.
A similar device, called the Mi-Fi, has been around for a couple of years, but those are 3G only. The 4G Mi-Fi is coming soon.
What does 4G Mean?
Without getting unnecessarily technical, we are talking about the technology that Cellular communications companies use to deliver wireless Internet connectivity. The ‘G’ stands for ‘Generation’ so 3G is third generation technology and 4G is fourth generation technology. 4G is better. It’s faster and it goes farther. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it exists only in limited areas. Below is Verizon’s coverage map, 4G is represented by the dark splotches, the red is 3G coverage, and the white is no coverage at all.
How Fast is 4G?
We live in our motorhome and happened to be staying in a friend’s driveway in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. It is a solid 4G area – and it was exciting to use our 4G connection. Click a link – you’re there. Watch a video all the way thru – no hesitations. What a joy! For those of you who like numbers, I ran a speed test using testmy.net and here’s the result:
Read that as 9 1/2 Megabits/per second. A really good 3G speed would be 500Kbps – that’s 500 Kilobits/second, or 1/2 Megabit/per second. We were browsing the Internet at 20 times normal speed! We never wanted to leave. This was not only 4G, but it was extra fast 4G.
The 3G signal available from our same location was horrible. It was extra bad 3G. Here’s a screen shot of that speed test:
That’s just over 1/4 Mbps! Our spot in Franklin, Tennessee is the poster child for why you want a new 4G device. With it, using the Internet was a joy. Without it was torture.
In the Tortoise and the Hare, the blazing fast bunny runs out of energy. With our blazing fast 4G Internet connection, we quickly ran out of our data allotment. Our mobile hotspot device was on a $49/mo plan for 5 Gigabytes of data transfer. After one week and 4 Gigabytes of usage, we changed our plan to the $80/mo for 10 Gigabytes of data. Today, May 28, we’re at 9.88 Gigabytes. We’re in Ohio now, outside of any 4G area and we’re using our 3G Droid cellphones, tethered to our computers for Internet access. Verizon’s penalty for going over our allotment really isn’t too bad – $10/Gigabyte of overage. If we were still in the good 4G area that had lousy 3G, we would probably pay the overage.
To Buy 4G or Not to Buy 4G
If you’re going to buy a cellular wireless Internet device now anyway, why not get 4G as long as it also does 3G? Notice the lights in my picture above of our mobile hotspot – there’s a 4G indicator light as well as a 3G indicator. If it can’t find any 4G signal, it will connect with a 3G. If you have a 3G only device – you’ll be very disappointed in Franklin, Tennessee!
If you aren’t already planning on buying such a device, then it’s a harder decision. Is it worth upgrading when 4G is still so rare? Pay close attention to the coverage map for your provider before deciding. Geeks like us just gotta have it!
Your Mileage May Vary!
Don’t take any speed test, or anyone else’s (even ours!) experience as gospel. Speeds vary from minute to minute, mile to mile, and computer to computer. This story is useful just to let you know how drastic the speed difference *can* be between 3G and 4G.
by Chris Guld, Geeks on Tour
Geeks on Tour is a membership website with hundreds of Tutorial Videos on topics of interest to travelers, such as managing digital photos with Picasa, Route-Planning with Streets and Trips, and sharing your travels with a website using Blogger. Members can view all of the videos in the Learning Library.