I have seen the future, and it is 4G.

And I don’t want to go back.

Verizon Wireless has fired up its so-called 4G LTE, for Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution, network in parts of northern Wayne and Macomb counties, and I got a sample Thursday at Verizon’s Novi store.

Initially, only laptop users will be able to take advantage of the higher speed networks. Verizon is putting an LG laptop dongle that connects a computer to the high speed network on sale Sunday. The price will be $99 with a two-year contract.

I took 4G for a spin on a pair of identical HP notebooks, one connected to the new 4G network, the other to the existing 3G network. And the difference boiled down to one word: speed.

At the Web site Speedtest.net, the 3G network showed 198 milliseconds ping, 770 kilobits per second download, and 580 kilobits per second upload.

On the 4G network, ping was still a slightly annoying 119 milliseconds. But the speed? Oh my goodness: 13.98 megabits per second download, 1.74 megabits per second upload.

That means the download of the 4G network was nearly TWENTY TIMES FASTER than 3G. Granted, it probably won’t stay that fast, given that nobody’s on the 4G network now and more people will be getting 4G equipment, but it still promises to be lots faster.

The difference is incredibly obvious on Web sites. Switching between videos is instantaneous at YouTube.com, faster than a cable TV clicker, with no annoying buffering interruptions. Clips on Hulu.com load instantly on 4G with no buffering, compared to a 30 to 40 second wait and occasional buffering breaks on 3G. Even on text sites, the difference is noticeable — on 4G they load virtually instantly, compared to a few seconds’ delay on 3G.

Verizon will offer a variety of data plans for laptops. One plan will cost $50 per month for 5 gigabytes of data, compared with $60 for 3G. Another plan will provide 10 gigabytes of data for $80 per month. Verizon Wireless CTO Tony Melone told the Associated Press that he expects many customers will find 5 gigabytes isn’t enough. When downloading at top 4G speeds, it takes about an hour to exhaust a monthly allotment of 5 gigabytes of data.

The rest of the Detroit area will get 4G speeds once a frequency interference  problem is worked out with a Canadian TV station on the other side of the border, presumably early next year. Other Michigan metropolitan areas will be added to the network throughout 2011.

Verizon plans to display a variety of 4G handsets that can take advantage of the higher network speeds at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month. Verizon spokeswoman Michelle Gilbert said the handsets will be available in stores no later than midyear.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.


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