If you’ve bought yourself a shiny new 4G smartphone or tablet, you’ll find it’s capable of a lot more than just faster web browsing. Real-world download speeds on Telstra’s 4G network are up to 35Mbps and this opens up a wealth of applications that either weren’t possible or performed poorly on a 3G connection.
Speedier web browsing is just the tip of the iceberg with 4G. Any apps that pull data down from the internet will benefit from a 4G connection. If you’ve ever tried navigating with Google Maps, you’ll know what we mean — constantly waiting for new map data to load with each page view makes it a painful experience over 3G. On a faster 4G connection, this isn’t an issue, even when you’re using the bandwidth-intensive satellite view.
Naturally, large files like movies or complex apps download a lot quicker over 4G, too, although you’ll be able to take advantage of this more with an Android 4G smartphone. Unlike Windows Phone, Android doesn’t restrict the size of apps you can download over a mobile data connection, and while the APK installers themselves are limited to 50MB, developers can attach two additional files of up to 2GB each. High-definition games and turn-by-turn navigation apps are a couple of categories where app sizes can exceed 1GB and if you’re downloading these onto a 4G smartphone, you won’t have to wait long before you can start using them.
4G offers much higher speeds than 3G connections.
Windows Phone’s closed file system also means you can’t download all file types directly from the web browser. Android doesn’t have this limitation, so you can take full advantage of your speedy 4G connection to download anything using the stock web browser, a third-party web browser, or one of the many BitTorrent and P2P clients that are available for the platform.
Perhaps the most surprisingly thing about 4G is that it’s actually faster than a home ADSL2+ broadband connection. Of course, download quotas with ADSL2+ are far more generous than they are on 4G, but if you don’t do much more than web browsing and email, then you could feasibly get rid of your fixed broadband connection altogether in favour of your 4G smartphone.
Share your 4G connection
Windows Phone and Android both let you share the mobile data connection with up to five devices by creating a personal Wi-Fi hotspot. The more devices that connect to the Wi-Fi network, the slower each connection gets; over 4G, this means you can have multiple devices connected simultaneously and still have better-than-3G internet speeds on all of them.
Create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot and share your mobile data connection.
Lag-free multimedia streaming
Multimedia streaming happens instantly over 4G. Not that music streaming was ever a challenge for 3G, but tracks typically take a couple of seconds to start playing — a lag that’s non-existent when you access the same service on a 4G smartphone. Some music streaming services, like Spotify, also have a high-bandwidth mode for streaming at 160Kbps or higher, which you can take advantage of to improve the audio quality.
Spotify has a high-bandwidth mode for streaming music at 160Kbps or higher.
YouTube doesn’t support HD video streaming from a mobile data connection — nor does Mobile Foxtel, unfortunately — but there are other apps that do. Vevo, a free music video app, has a high-quality video streaming mode and Google Movies lets you stream video rentals in HD.
VEVO has a high-quality music video streaming mode.
If you tether your 4G smartphone to an iPod Touch or iPad, you can also take advantage of iOS-only video apps like BBC iPlayer or Quickflix, which automatically bump up video streaming quality when you have a faster connection.
High-definition video streaming in particular is a challenge for 3G phones. We tried it on a Samsung Galaxy S III on a Telstra NextG connection (which scored 8Mbps from our test location in Sydney’s eastern suburbs) and our HD movie rental stuttered every few minutes. On an HTC One XL, however, the same movie played uninterrupted when we connected to the 4G network from the Sydney CBD.
Upload speeds on the Telstra 4G network can be as fast as 20Mbps, which means you can upload HD videos to YouTube and other video-sharing services significantly faster. Live video broadcasts are also possible using services like Ustream, with 4G improving the quality of the stream significantly.
Cloud storage & processing
The limitations of a smartphone — namely, limited storage space and inferior processing and graphics power — can be mitigated through cloud computing and this is the area where high-speed 4G connectivity really becomes worthwhile.
File storage can be outsourced to services such as Dropbox and SugarSync, while processing can be farmed off to remote servers to do the heavy lifting. 4G makes a real difference here, as accessing the file or performing the task happens so quickly that you don’t even realise it’s being done remotely. Or that’s the idea, anyway. This area hasn’t even come close to reaching its full potential, but there are a few examples of this happening in the mobile space already.
Cloud-based apps are where a lot of the action will be happening over the next couple of years. We’re not talking simple web apps that live on your phone and interface with a cloud service, like Google Drive or Facebook, but full-blown desktop apps and games that run completely on a remote server and ‘stream’ the action to your smartphone or tablet — a similar concept to remote access software, only you’re accessing high-speed servers rather than your desktop computer at home.
OnLive is a pioneer in this field, offering access to proper console/PC gaming and full versions of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer with Adobe Flash from compatible mobile devices. Games like Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and L.A. Noire are fully playable through OnLive’s service, although you’ll need to pair your smartphone or tablet with a games console to play most of the titles.
Since the apps are stored and run from a remote server, mobile device limitations aren’t relevant. Obviously, this requires a lot of data to be pushed to your smartphone or tablet in real time and 4G is perfectly placed to facilitate this. Unfortunately, OnLive is only available in North America and the UK at present, but the company plans to expand to other parts of Europe and Asia in the near future.
OnLive offers the full version of Internet Explorer with Adobe Flash from compatible devices. Sadly, this service isn't available in Australia yet.