Wireless companies are in an arms race to upgrade their Twin Cities networks to deliver much speedier Internet connections for mobile phones, iPads, and laptops. The biggest networks already offer what's called 4G service, or promise to make it available in a matter of months.
The carriers promise speeds as fast or faster than what most folks get at home or work over a wire. High definition; TV-quality video conferencing and more -- all on a cell phone or another mobile device capable of tapping into one of the 4G wireless networks being rolled out.
Two carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile, have already launched 4G -- fourth generation -- networks in the Twin Cities and other markets.
AT&T says it will launch its 4G service next year. Meanwhile, Verizon promises to have its 4G network up in 38 markets, including the Twin Cities, by the end of this year.
Verizon brought hundreds of local business customers together in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday to show them what its 4G network could make possible.
Tom Dunlap of Verizon said 4G will provide customers with a 10-fold increase in data speeds. And give them "the ability to access any data, anywhere, at anytime, with any device."
Dunlap told the mix of executives and telecom techs in attendance that they'll be able to do things they didn't think were practical -- or possible.
Verizon says 4G means sharp, broadcast quality video for doctors who want to examine patients stuck at home. It means police can snap a picture of a suspect, and identify him by accessing a facial recognition database, wirelessly.
Nick McCulloch says his firm, Tempo Tickets, is eager to take advantage of the greater data speeds 4G offers.
McCulloch is director of sales and marketing for Tempo Tickets, which provides a service that allows sports teams and theater operators to scan patrons' tickets to see if they're valid.
McCulloch expects 4G will speed up the processing of ticket holders as they enter a venue. Even if it's only by a second or two, it matters.
“The speed has finally caught up to the power and ease of use of the devices. And I like that.”David Jones, telecommunications administrator
"Any amount of time is going to help the doors run smoothly, because you multiply it by X number of thousands of people," he said.
McCulloch says 4G will also permit virtually instantaneous credit card transactions for people who show up needing tickets.
With 4G speeds, many companies hope to give workers on the go the same access to information enjoyed by workers in the office.
David Jones, a telecommunications administrator for a local Twin Cities medical device maker, was excited about the possibilities. He figures 4G networks like Verizon's will let workers do just about anything anywhere.
"It's definitely all coming together," said Jones. "The speed has finally caught up to the power and ease of use of the devices. And I like that."
But 4G devices remain scarce. Verizon, for example, has yet to reveal any smartphones or other devices that will work on its speedier network. And like other carriers, Verizon says its 4G network won't mean any improvement for voice calls.
But analysts don't see that stopping consumers from signing up for higher speeds.
"I suspect we're gong to see some pretty aggressive moves by consumers to take advantage of the capability," said Ken Rehbehn, an analyst with the Yankee Group, a telecommunications research and consulting firm.
"The increased data rates, as well as the faster response on the network, will prove very valuable for the consumption of video, improved Web browsing experience, as well as gaming experiences," Rehbehn said.
A recent Yankee Group survey indicates a serious appetite for high-speed wireless data service seems to be developing. Thirty percent of Americans are already surfing the web on cell phones every day. About 10 percent are watching video on mobile phones at least once a day.