NTT DoCoMo trailblazing in 4G

Kenji Hall

And you thought 3G was fast. Japan's No. 1 cell phone service operator, NTT DoCoMo, says today that it successfully completed a field experiment, in Yokosuka, west of Tokyo, with fourth-generation cell phone technology that would let you download an entire CD in two seconds or a two-hour movie on DVD in 12 seconds. DoCoMo researchers tested the transmission rate (2.5 Gigabits per second) while riding in a car traveling roughly 20 km per hour (12 1/2 miles per hour).

To give you an idea of how much faster that transmission speed is than current technology, consider this: Over your average DSL broadband connection, it would take 2 minutes to download the CD and 11 minutes to download the DVD. A cell phone would probably take 15 times as long.

DoCoMo says ([no]=615) its results beat the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R)'s proposed standard.

OK. But you won't be able to go to your local Circuit City and buy a cell phone that can blow away land-based broadband connections anytime soon. After all, telcos like DoCoMo are still struggling to get consumers to convert to 3G cell phones, which remain a mere slice of the entire market. DoCoMo wasn't even testing its new technology on a real handset: It had rigged some high-powered machines with six antenna that were simultaneously sending and receiving data. Still, the test, conducted back on Dec. 14, shows DoCoMo is making progress as it races to meet a government target of having 4G service up and running around 2010, and as it tiptoes into markets abroad. (See BW, 17/1/06, "DoCoMo Is Looking Abroad--Again")

What's more, the transmission rates were 2.5 times speedier than DoCoMo's tests run just seven months earlier. And since 4G is based on "packet-switched" technology for both voice and data (current cell phones only use this method for data), the tests offer evidence that it can be done. I wouldn't be surprised if, at some point in the not-so-distant future, the Hollywood studios get us hooked downloading high-definition movies to a cell phone or other mobile gizmo, much the same way recording companies nowadays have Japanese consumers in the habit of downloading tunes to their cell phones.

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