Will Your Next Laptop be 4G?

New smartphones with ultrafast 4G wireless broadband are making headlines this week, particularly Sprint's slick HTC EVO 4G handset. But laptop manufacturers are getting in on the 4G action too.

Lenovo ThinkPad laptops in the U.S. will now support Sprint 3G and 4G (WiMax) wireless, the companies announced today.   ThinkPad models are already 3G-ready, and Lenovo will now offer 4G-enabled laptops like the business-oriented ThinkPad Edge.

Clearwire, the WiMax carrier backed by Sprint, says more than 30 computers now come with a 4G modem that works with its network.

In related news, Qualcomm today announced that its latest Gobi modem chipsets would support LTE (Long Term Evolution), a competing 4G technology favored by leading U.S. wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Major laptop makers, including Acer, HP, Dell, and Lenovo, already offer Gobi 3G modems, and the progression to 4G should happen shortly.

Muddled 4G

User confusion may slow the adoption of 4G broadband in laptops, however. In the U.S. market, two next-generation wireless broadband technologies--WiMax and LTE-- are "4G." Life would be a lot simpler with one global spec for high-speed mobile bro

adband, a goal advocated by none other than Clearwire chief executive Bill Morrow, Reuters reports.

What's so confusing? Here's an example: Lenovo's ThinkPads support Sprint 4G, which uses WiMax. A 4G-enabled Dell laptop with a Qualcomm Gobi modem will support LTE, a nascent technology that AT&T and Verizon Wireless plan to roll out over the next two years. However, some Dell laptops, including the Inspiron Mini 10 netbook, offer WiMax 4G modems too.

4G 101

Of course, if you're buying a 4G-ready laptop from your wireless provider, the problem is solved. The carrier would certainly sell only 4G laptops that are compatible with its service. But many home and business customers are used to buying laptops directly from PC manufacturers or consumer electronics retailers. For the latter group, a 4G crash course is necessary.

There's plenty of time for home and business users to study up on the finer points of LTE vs. WiMax, however. Both 4G networks are in their early stages of build-out, although WiMax has a significant head start. Sprint has rolled out its 4G service in 27 U.S. cities, and plans to add 15 more this year. But most AT&T and Verizon Wireless users won't see 4G access until sometime next year.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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