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Summary:

Sprint announced the cities that will see WiMAX in 2010 and based on the list, that HTC Supersonic 4G phone is starting to make more sense. Here’s why we’re going to need faster wireless pipes for the handsets of tomorrow like the Supersonic.

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WiMAX speedtest in downtown Austin, TX

Somehow a Sprint news release got past me yesterday and tucked inside was a listing of 2010 WiMAX cities in the U.S. Officially, Sprint plans to light up these towns: Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Houston, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. There’s mention of more markets to be announced at a later date, but it’s not clear if those markets will see WiMAX in 2010 or beyond. Fast data connections for home, laptop sticks and Overdrive devices are the obvious market here, but don’t discount phones — the anticipated 4G-totin’ HTC Supersonic will need a WiMAX signal to live up to it’s name. And when Colin Gibbs wondered why the Supersonic was on the way, he noted that major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of the handset. By year end, it appears that will be a moot point and I expect plenty of smartphone addicts in these areas boarding a Supersonic.

While faster is generally better, I really haven’t pined for a 4G phone — there’s no way I’d go back to an 2.5G device, but 3G is generally fast enough for most of my phone activities. But two recent scenarios have me starting to rethink my desire. Yesterday, James asked how much you use Wi-Fi on your phone, and a large percentage of commenters generally said as often as possible. One reason is to get at data without approaching a 3G bandwidth cap, but most smartphone data plans these days are unlimited — the U.S. data plans for laptops and signal sharing devices are a different story, of course. My own answer to the Wi-Fi question was that I typically use Wi-Fi at home on a handset, due to the faster speeds. That should have told me that I do want faster throughput on my handset. If that wasn’t enough evidence, my recent HSPA+ testing of T-Mobile’s 21 Mbps network was a clearer sign. I just watched the video again and my excitement was proof positive when a Google Nexus One topped out at over 4 Mbps in a download test. Just listen to my unscripted comments starting at the 3:15 mark — my true geekiness emerges. ;)

I’m still thinking that for most of today’s smartphone activities, a good 3G signal is more than adequate — video uploads are probably the largest exception. But there’s another factor involved that I hadn’t thought about — what about the activities we’ll do on the superphones of tomorrow? Handset capabilities continue to leap forward and it’s safe to say that they are pocketable computers. That evolution isn’t simply going to stop — it’s continuing forward at a torrid pace and as it does, I anticipate that we’ll rely on handsets even more in the future. We’ll do more complex activities as mobile software evolves and as we continue to create content with our devices on the go. And we’ll need faster wireless pipes to make it all happen. I’m not picking a “winner” here in terms of WiMAX, LTE or HSPA+, but I’m starting to see why I’ll crave it for my phone.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Marketing Handsets in the Superphone Era

  1. Tethering in particular benefits from these much higher speeds. Since I use my iphone as my only internet connection, and since I live in Baltimore and travel to Washington and NY, on a regular basis, I plan on picking up the Supersonic to double my connection speed.

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  2. If “major city” doesn’t include LA, I don’t know what these guys are thinking. It sucks being last on the list when it comes to new IT infrastructure. Why is it whenever something needs to be built on a city-wide scale LA is forgotten? Oh, let me guess, LA is TOO BIG to handle. How many Sprint subscribers are there in SoCal? A few million at least. Why don’t we remove the kid gloves Sprint??? ;)

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    1. Most likely because of all the goverment regualtion to get towers put up to get this done.

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