Hands-On With Verizon’s 4G LTE Network and ICD Ultra

IMG_9513 leadLast summer, I had an eye-opening experience. While in South Korea, I had a chance to test the country’s 4G WiBro network. The speeds were so fast and reliable that I was able to stream YouTube clips from a moving subway car. My verdict: Americans should be jealous. Well, we might not have to wait much longer. Today, I had the chance to see Verizon’s 4G LTE network in action which, if it works as promised, would enable experiences similar to what I enjoyed in Korea.

On the one hand, the network is most certainly on the way. Verizon promises that by year’s end it will have rolled out services in 25 to 30 markets, namely big cities. But right now, Verizon won’t comment on the speeds we’re likely to see. It also won’t comment on how much users might have to pay for month when they buy connected devices, such as cameras. And the devices I saw today aren’t yet real; they’re concepts dreamed up by the likes of Samsung and ICD.

And yet, I think these demos shed light on how we might take advantage of LTE, as well as the speeds we could enjoy (hopefully, perhaps, even in environments denser and less controlled than the one Verizon constructed at its CES exhibition). Read on for a recap and photos of these high-speed prototype devices.

Full HD Movies On Demand, On the Go

The first thing I saw was the ICD Ultra, a 7-inch portable media player (pictured) running Nvidia’s new Tegra 2 platform.  This device has a 4G radio inside from Motorola. The story here is that it can stream 1080p video, as well as music and photos. The tablet has a resistive touchscreen and an interface not unlike Apple’s Cover Flow, where you can swipe through movie titles, using their poster art as a guide. Whereas today one might store digital media locally, the solution here is to stream on-demand movies using the LTE network. I can see kids in the backseat of a car choosing movies, to name one scenario.

In my hands-on, I noticed the player took a few seconds to load the movie we chose, but once we did it played smoothly on the device. Maybe these speeds and the right selection of content would make something like the FLO Personal Television a more compelling concept?

Can You See Me Now? Transmitting Real-Time Videos

Next up was a connected photo frame, along with an LTE-enabled camera and a mobile Internet device, all concepts made by Samsung. Photo frames with their own e-mail or IP addresses or even network service aren’t new– we saw one announced this week– but, according to Verizon, with 4G LTE service instead of 3G or Wi-Fi, these frames can accept different kinds of content– namely, remote and real time video. I saw the frame stream video stored on a server somewhere else. This played smoothly. However, when the Samsung rep who was demoing these products beamed live, real-time video to the frame ,the video appeared very sluggish, not unlike the way webcam videos looked a decade ago.

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This, scenario, I have to say, is one I don’t think is completely realistic anyway, at least not with a digital frame being the receiving device. Maybe a phone would be more practical? Perhaps grandparents, say, will want to receive video of their grandchildren from the comfort of their living room. Even still, I’d like to see smoother video transmitted to more mobile devices as well.

Connected Homes

The last concept I saw was the idea of controlling a home– thermostats, appliances, locks on the doors, even Internet cameras– over an LTE connection. I saw a Web portal  as well as an app on my host’s BlackBerry Storm. My first question was, “So, why can’t we do this via 3G?” In theory, you can. At least, some of it. There are even already technologies on the market that let users control and monitor their home remotely. Here’s just one screen (there are more in the gallery).

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Where LTE comes in handy, Verizon says, is when you want to view live video of your home in your browser. The demo I saw did indeed show smooth video, but given that I had just seen some slow real-time video streaming with the digital frame and camera, I’m a bit skeptical of how consistently fluid this video will be.


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