4G, 3G and the 3-Cyaad Man!

Digicel 4G Launch

Digicel 4G: A huge technology wave for Jamaicans” claimed the Jamaica Observer. Their counterpart – The Gleaner – instead posed the question, no less hyperbolic, “Will 4G revolutionise wireless broadband for J’cans? Digicel says yes”. And so began the fanfare!

Digicel has launched a “new 4G service”, based on a technology known as WiMax. The fact of the matter, however, is that Digicel has been promising this “new” technology from as far back as March, 2006. Back then WiMax was indeed a promising prospect, what with the backing of multi-billion dollar corporations such as Intel, Cisco Systems and Samsung. The lustre has since faded, though, and even the number one WiMax proponent, Intel, has thrown its support behind LTE – a competing standard.

I want to keep this simple, so you don’t fall asleep on me, so here goes:

  • October, 2001 – First 3G network launched in Japan (NTT Docomo).
  • 2005 – Intel and some other major corporations throw weight behind WiMax technology, promising to produce electronic chips to implement into devices that same year.
  • Important: WiMax is not the same, or merely an improvement on Wi-Fi – they are two totally different technologies.
  • The 3G and 4G monikers represent ‘3rd Generation’ and ‘4th Generation’, and are simply differentiated by maximum speed capacity, hence 4G has a higher theoretical max speed than 3G.
  • 3G technology for GSM networks is also known as HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) – max download speed: 3.6 Mbps in some implementations, and 7.2 Mbps with improved infrastructure.
  • Variations of 3G include HSPA+ (HSPA enhanced) – max download speed: 20 Mbps
  • WiMax theoretical download: 40 Mbps.
  • LTE – another 4G standard which has been adopted by most of the players in the international cellular industry.
  • LTE – max download speed: more than 100 Mbps.

Now based on all the info I’ve provided above, you can draw your own conclusions about where Digicel and WiMax are headed. Currently, the two minor players in the Jamaican cellular market both offer 3G service – available on mobile phones AND for PC’s and laptops. So if you’re on Claro or LIME (lawks dem couldn’t find a betta name dan LIME??) you can browse at (relatively) high speeds on your phone AS WELL AS from your computer if you purchase a USB antenna. For all those on Digicel, you may only use the WiMax service on your PC’s/Laptops, with a USB antenna or a fixed modem. Your phone will not now or ever support 4G of any kind! There are only two (2) WiMax handsets commercially available in the world today, and they can’t even be used on any of the Jamaican networks because these 4G phones use CDMA technology for calls (simply put, NOT GSM, no SIM card, zip, zilch, nada!!). The phones by the way, are the HTC Evo 4G and the Samsung Epic 4G (Samsung also had one called the “Mondi”, but it doesn’t seem to be available for any carriers).

HTC Hero Smartphone


Well as far as I’m concerned this is as close as you’ll come to a corporate “3-cyaad man”, or the 3-card Monte as it’s correctly known!

Why?

Because all the glossy PR, all the fanfare, all the speed quotes, do nothing but obfuscate the limitations of this fool’s gold offer by our largest cellular carrier. “Cash for gold!!” Yeah – your cash for ‘wash-over’ gold, if you’re foolish enough to not properly assess the pro’s and con’s of this offering.

From the list above, you should have assessed that:

  • Digicel delayed this roll-out for more than four (4) years, and in today’s fast-paced world of technology, four years is equivalent to three or four generations of evolution.
  • WiMax technology is almost DOA – dead on arrival!! As most carriers are moving towards implementing LTE for 4G (Verizon has already built out their network, and promises LTE devices by June 2011)
  • The top speed for WiMax isn’t even half of that promised by LTE, and only twice as fast as HSPA+ which is already being implemented by T-Mobile and other networks, and can work with existing 3G handsets!
  • WiMax, as implemented by Digicel, can only be used on PC’s and laptops, and only has a top theoretical download speed of 8 Mbps – speeds which are already available from LIME and FLOW fixed line services (I should point out that Digicel has an advantage here in the ability of users to be mobile with their 4G USB dongle – that’s about it!)
  • You will not be able to take advantage of WiMax on your mobile phone, and if Digicel does start to provide 4G for handsets, users will have to purchase new phones (whenever someone starts making them!)

Add to these considerations, the fact that speedtests conducted by Yaadinfo listeners have shown Digicel’s WiMax to provide no faster than 3.4 Mbps of the promised 8 Mbps speeds. (I’ll note that most providers state clearly that speeds will vary based on the coverage in your area, and are affected by building structures. LIME and Claro services also vary at different locations – SEE SCREEN GRABS OF DIGICEL 4G SPEED TESTS HERE and LIME ADSL SPEED TESTS HERE).


The major WiMax player in the world is Clearwire, who, in partnership with Sprint, have an approximate three-year headstart on all their rivals in the US, and also actually have phones that can use WiMax. With the revenue they have earned/will earn from their coverage (estimated to reach 120 million people, almost ½ the US population, by December 2010) they can stay ahead of the pack, and they have hinted at moving to LTE eventually, or at least using both technologies simultaneously.

Digi Food

Just like the 3-Card Monte, our media are much like the man or woman planted in the crowd to help sucker you out of your money by thinking you actually know which card is the King of diamonds. Instead of doing their jobs, and presenting consumers with the facts (and therefore choice) they merely parrot what is given to them in press releases, and rush to launches to fill their bellies with the free food on offer – what’s in their cup goes in their guts! Meanwhile, Digicel has an Ace of Spade up its sleeve.

Go ahead, pick a card…any card!