Your smart phone could soon get much faster when it comes to checking e-mail and surfing the web.
Major wireless companies are all rolling out higher-speed data services for smart phones and portable computers as more customers use their phones to check e-mail, surf the web, watch video and use social media sites.
T-Mobile is expected to announce the launch of a higher-speed wireless data service in the Twin Cities this week.
The company hasn't confirmed confirm the launch, but industry insiders have said the Twin Cities will be in the next round of markets to get T-Mobile's higher-speed data service, which is already up and running in more than two dozen markets.
Sprint has said it will offer higher-speed wireless data in the Twin Cities by the end of the year. Verizon is deploying its zippier data service in 30 markets by the end of this year, though it won't say if the Twin Cities is included.
Karen Smith of Verizon Wireless said wireless providers are simply responding to what people want and expect.
"People are now carrying powerful computers around in the palm of their hand and they want to be able to do everything on their mobile device that they can do at home on their laptop. So, that's where we are heading, and 4G will help with that," Smith said.
AT&T -- which has been the sole wireless provider for Apple's iPhone and iPad -- said it expects to start deployment of its 4G -- fourth generation -- wireless network in 2011. Until then, AT&T said it's been juicing up the speed of its existing 3G data network across the country, including in the Twin Cities.
Smart phones and laptop computers are currently getting connect rates of about 500 kilobits to 1 megabit. Speed can be affected by factors such as your distance from a cell tower, your device and network traffic.
With the next-generation data services, analysts said we can generally expect connect speeds of 5 to 15 megabits per second, which is as fast or faster than what most of us get at home or work with a cable modem or DSL.
Chris Nicoll, who tracks the wireless industry as an analyst with the Yankee Group, said people are really going to notice a speed surge as these networks grow and people use smart phones and portable computers that can take advantage of the faster networks.
"Especially if you're moving to a new smart phone, you've got a big wow factor there," Nicoll said. "If you're upgrading from a first-generation smart phone or 3G network to the 4G network, you're going to have a pretty big cool factor there as well. There are lots of neat applications to help you find your friends, help you find your way, help find information for you."
Some people will have to upgrade their phones to take advantage of the faster speeds. Existing phones won't be obsolete, but their ability to take advantage of faster speeds will vary.
Consumers can expect to pay about $200 for a 4G phone, with a long-term service contract. That's about what many top-line phones have been selling for of late.
Data price plans vary by carrier, but unlimited or high-use data service costs around $80 per month to start.
AT&T will charge new customers based on their data use, so customers who watch a lot of video, download a lot of music or surf the web a lot will pay more.
AT&T's decision to handle things that way came after the company found about 3 percent of its customers accounted for 40 percent of its wireless data traffic.