Walter Mossberg writes about the most important development in US wireless communications:
This new Verizon network, which the company calls “BroadbandAccess,” promises users in 18 cities so far that they can get on the Internet at typical speeds of between 300 and 500 kilobits a second. That’s the equivalent of what many wired home DSL modems do, and much faster than prior American cellphone data networks. But in my first tests of the new network last spring I was able to do even better, averaging nearly 600 kilobits a second.
And, unlike Wi-Fi, another form of wireless broadband, the new Verizon network doesn’t require the user to be near a “hot spot,” usually found in coffee shops or hotels. Verizon hopes to have most major metro areas covered by EV-DO by the end of 2005, and Sprint is also planning to roll out an EV-DO network next year.
But so far, this capability has been available only via a special modem card inserted into a laptop computer, and it has carried a whopping monthly price tag of $80. Now Verizon is introducing two hand-held devices, a combination PDA/phone and a standard flip phone, that can tap the EV-DO network. And it is charging lower monthly fees to use the network with these devices than it does for laptop use.
In my tests, Verizon’s new Pocket PC was never slower than 349 kilobits a second, and it averaged between 450 and 550 kilobits.
Armed with those speeds, I was able to confidently set the e-mail program on the device to get the full text of messages and even attachments. It downloaded hundreds of e-mails daily, at speeds that, while not as fast as my office and home PCs, were close enough that I felt almost as if I was at the computer. On the Internet, Web pages rendered quickly, and I was able to play streaming audio and video, at good resolution, with no more stuttering than you’d get on a PC.
Bottom line: The new Verizon EV-DO network is a very good thing, and it’s a great addition to a laptop or PDA. But until Verizon and other carriers allow regular phones to have more computerlike capabilities, wireless broadband won’t matter much for average cellphone users.