MIAMI — In the wireless world, 4G is a touchy subject.
Carriers including Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile have peppered the television airwaves with ads boasting their fast download speeds for South Florida customers.
But with limited availability in some areas, technical glitches during launch and critics who say not all 4G technology is worthy of that title, there are numerous customers -- such as Elvin Candelario of Homestead, Fla. -- who just wish it worked.
Candelario and his wife are early adopters of Sprint's 4G network, which launched Nov. 29 in South Florida. They're each paying an extra $10 a month for the privilege of having smartphones that can access 4G speeds.
Problem is, Homestead wasn't among the areas that get the service.
"When you do get 4G, it's awesome,'' said Candelario, 34, who can access 4G speeds when he goes to work in Hallandale Beach, 40 miles north. "I'm kind of upset, but I have no choice. . . . I feel like they over-promised.''
The fourth generation of wireless data speeds -- called 4G -- is five to 10 times faster than the current widespread network speeds the majority of phones use today. The biggest benefit comes to users who are downloading and sending videos, or engaging in the latest smartphone fad: video chatting.
Currently, only Sprint and T-Mobile offer smartphone 4G access in South Florida. But as each carrier races to build its own 4G network, consumers are finding that these super high-speed networks aren't ready to deliver on all their promises.
"I'd call it start-up jitters,'' said Andrea Goldsmith, professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University and advisor to 4G provider Sequans Communications.
Goldsmith spoke about the future of wireless technology in Miami this month during the Globecom Conference. She said it's not that the technology wasn't tested properly, but rather that carriers don't know what the user behavior demands are until it's launched.
"We saw the iPhone brought 3G networks to their knees because people want video, they want high-speed data, they want instant access to the Internet, and 3G networks are not capable of supporting that for a large number of users,'' Goldsmith said. "So it's almost like the networks are killed by their own success.''
Since Sprint officially announced 4G had arrived in South Florida, customers using its popular HTC Evo and Samsung Epic phones have voiced complaints to The Miami Herald of not being able to get 4G speeds consistently.
"That won't be the case a month or two from now,'' said Sprint spokeswoman Crystal Davis. She said the company is making adjustments to improve the network over time, and the size of South Florida makes it difficult to launch it perfectly all at once.
"I know that's hard to swallow,'' Davis said.
One factor in the race for speed is the technology underlying each carrier's service: Sprint uses WiMAX, Verizon uses LTE, and T-Mobile uses HSPA+. AT&T will eventually use LTE when it launches 4G next year.
The jargon of who-uses-what doesn't mean much to consumers, other than they'll have to be patient as each carrier works to build out its own separate network.
Today, phones with 3G typically can download around 1 megabyte of data per second on a good day, but 4G can boost that to 5 megabytes -- sometimes as high as 10 or 12 megabytes depending on factors like the weather, how many other users are in the area, and the distance from the tower.
But is one 4G better than another?
Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com