Nov 20, 2012

STOP THE CAPS

Interstate 40 stretches out a long way between both coasts, and out of all the times I've traveled across the country I40 has nearly always been a major part of the journey. As you drive along day after day you'll watch trees slowly shrink over the miles before turning into shrubs-- then the desert covers it all up. Right now we're just reaching the semi-shrub sparsely treed phase outside Little Rock, AK. 

While running a few more speed tests today around Memphis, TN I noticed the tiny little "LTE" initials next to the 4G indicator on Amanda's phone-- what in the world does that stand for anyway? Billboards for the major carriers are aimed at us in every major city claiming to have the nation's most awesome LTE service, so what exactly are they selling me? We were guessing: Long Term Eeenternet? Light Transmission of.....eeenternet? Lotta Tight EEENTERNET. I used the LTE on the phone to look it up, and The New York Times clarified:
For those pondering the abbreviations, “3G” stands for Third Generation, “4G” stands for Fourth Generation and “4G LTE” stands for Fourth Generation, Long Term Evolution. 
It is pretty fast; the theoretical limits are around 100 Mbps even if the real world speeds are down around 20 Mbps.  Today I finally broke through the 20's around Memphis:

Of the four or so snapshots I took through TN, this was by far the biggest result. 

After the realization that this phone was capable of cruising around the web at this rate, I began to think about the possibility of hooking up the phone to my router at home. Though we don't have access to a 4G LTE network in West Virginia, many people throughout the country could easily take advantage of these speeds for home computing use. Especially since cable internet can run $50 to $80/month and a data plan is closer to $40. 

The rub, of course, is data caps. For this latest generation of networks the major carriers impose a limit on the amount of data you can use per month-- this is dubbed data caps. On her phone Amanda has a little notification app that indicates how much data has been used this month, and so far we're at 584 Mb. On a typical 2 Gig plan, that's a lot for cell only browsing; if the connection were tied to a computer that barrier would be quickly surpassed. Luckily, Amanda is one of the fortunate few still grandfathered into Verizon's unlimited plan-- if only we were near an LTE tower, we would be set. 

From my point of view driving down I40 there's all kinds of speedy internet bouncing around, but at home I either can't access it, or if I could I'd quickly go through a tiny monthly allowance. While my work with large video files requires that I consume much more bandwidth than today's average user, the definition of average consumption is a moving target. It's hard to believe, but the first iPhone came out only five years ago-- how much will we use five years from now? What exactly brought carriers to conclude 2 gigs is enough?

There's a lot of time to sit around and Google stuff on a road trip, but it wasn't long before I was lucky enough to stumble across www.StopTheCap.com, an incredibly deep source of information about telecommunication companies and their broadband practices. I read aloud to Amanda several pages of posts, all of which I'd love to copy paste here. I'll likely turn to it  frequently for quotes, like this one:

...the costs of bandwidth and network upgrades to handle increased data demands are proving to be both incidental and declining. What has not declined is the price consumers pay for service.

Cell service providers realize at this point that broadband is their premium service as traditionally separate utilities like telephone and TV are now available through the same data connection. Quality and content online are guaranteed to increase, so keeping a careful hand on how much data can be accessed is key to maximizing profits. 2 gigs, it seems, is the number that won't scare off subscribers, but will introduce a mindset that data should cost a lot of money. 

At any rate, StoptheCap.com is a wealth of knowledge that I'm only beginning to read through, so I'll refrain from pointing too many fingers just yet, but my disappointment in finding a blockade while exploring a promising system is huge. Ultimately, I just want to have access to solid service at a reasonable rate so I can get on with doing what I do-- don't we all?