For a long time, the most important number in the rollout of 4G services was the number of cities in which it was available. That number now is so large that it ceases to be interesting. The bottom line is that if you want LTE and live in anything but the smallest of localities, you will be able to get it - and in all likelihood, from more than one provider.
The most intriguing factors now actually are a series of numbers. These include upload and download speed, number of calls completed, numbers of calls dropped and related metrics that speak meaningfully to the quality of the service. When these numbers move front and center, it becomes clear that the technology is firmly established. Still, it is not yet truly a commodity in that a wide-quality gulf exists between the platforms. Great deals - and great mistakes -are possible.
Studies of these metrics are becoming more common, often seen through the dizzying array of phones being released. The most recent comes from RootMetrics, which tested the HTC Amaze on T-Mobile Networks in Columbus, Ohio; Orlando, Fl.; Providence, R.I.; Richmond, Va. and Tucson, Ariz. The story says that the T-Mobile network ran between 6.2 Megabits per second (Mbps) and 7.1 Mbps:
T-Mobile handily beat out AT&T's HSPA and Sprint's WiMAX services - in most cases more than doubling their speeds - though Root hasn't yet tested Ma Bell's recently released LTE smartphones. But in four of those markets (Verizon doesn't yet offer LTE in Providence), Root pitted the Amaze against Verizon's LTE HTC Thunderbolt, which averaged download speeds between 9.6 Mbps and 11.4 Mbps and upload speeds between 3.8 Mbps and 6.7 Mbps. It's not hard to pick a winner.
The fact that the LTE network tested faster than the HSPA+ infrastructure is no surprise. About a year ago, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) tweaked its definition of 4G to enable HSPA+ to use the label.
Earlier this year, I spoke to Rich McNally, the vice president of information products for . While some of the numbers he related already are dated, he gave an inkling of how many things are tested. Some are made public and some are done on behalf of wireless carriers and enterprise clients:
Metrico measures the user experience of devices. We measure such things as file download and upload times, Web page load times, speech quality in the handset, speakerphone and Bluetooth modes and call performance as measured by things like blocked calls, dropped calls and other things along those lines.
The point is that the focus has moved from availability to performance. That transition has happened at record speed. There will be more coverage like Brief Mobile's look at the speed of AT&T's 4G network from earlier this month.
IT departments and telecommunications staffs must do their due diligence. They should demand fair and enforceable service level agreements (SLAs), run deep tests on voice and data services and have backup plans if the primary network performs poorly or quits. The most important point is that 4G now is a buyer's market - and corporate customers should take advantage.