CES: Here comes 4G for your Laptop

Sierra Wireless will be one of the first to release an embedded 4G broadband network module for laptops and tablets. They won't be the last.

4G broadband technology has taken its own sweet time to reach users, and while a few would argue that we still don't have 4G, the ITU has finally admitted that WiMAX, LTE, and HSPA+ do indeed deliver 4G speeds.

Call it what you will, T-Mobile's Evolved High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) network supports simultaneous voice and data with download speeds in the 5-10Megabits per second (Mbps) range and upload speeds in the 5-7Mbps range. Verizon's Long Term Evolution (LTE) answers this with 5 to 12Mbps downloads and 5Mpbs uploads. And, even Sprint's troubled WiMAX network has download speeds in the 6-8Mbps range with 2-4Mbps upload speeds.

Of course, what you'll see with your 4G smartphone depends on what the 4G infrastructure is like in your area. In some places at least, WiMAX is already fast enough to be considered a last-mile replacement for cable or DSL.

Another problem is while connecting your smartphone to a broadband 4G network is all fine and dandy, it would be even handier if you could connect your netbook, laptop, PC, or tablet to 4G without using a USB dongle. Wouldn't be if great if you could just get a laptop or what have you that had 4G built in?

That's where the Sierra Wireless AirPrime MC7750 4G LTE Mobile Broadband Embedded Module comes in. This package, which Sierra announced at CES, will enable OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to integrate Verizon LTE into routers, netbooks, notebooks and tablet computers.

Sierra Wireless states that the Sierra Wireless AirPrime MC7750 embedded module will also support Verizon Wireless' existing 2G and 3G services to allow roaming outside of LTE coverage areas. So customers will still be able to connect anywhere Verizon Wireless offers data service. This hardware also supports support Qualcomm's Gobi application programming interface (API).

According to Sierra, commercial shipments of the AirPrime MC7750 are scheduled to begin within the first quarter of 2011. Others will soon follow.

Qualcomm's acquisition of leading Wi-Fi chip maker Atheros has made that abundantly clear. I predict that just as we now expect any laptop or tablet to have 802.11n Wi-Fi, we're going to expect built-in 4G in them by year's end. The really interesting question will be: "Which 4G will they end up supporting?" But, that's a story for another day.


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