Heads up: Verizon’s Innovation Center shows off a headset, called Golden-i, that can do things like provide streaming video to security guards’ eyepieces.
Tucked away in a new office block in Waltham, Massachusetts, is a kind of wireless Tomorrowland. Inside several colorfully lit chambers, visitors can marvel over a Buick that displays a live video stream from the owner’s living room, ATMs that allow wireless video chats with bank representatives, and head-mounted displays that might someday deliver live security camera video feeds to patrolling security guards.
The center was created by Verizon, which, along with other major carriers, is heavily promoting business partnerships based on its wireless broadband service—even though today’s network congestion means consumers can sometimes find it a challenge simply watching a few streaming episodes of The Simpsons on their smart phones.
The LTE Innovation Center, as it’s called, envisions all manner of devices using Verizon’s newer and faster 4G LTE network, which provides speeds up to 10 times faster than the older 3G network that is the focus of much of today’s congestion issues. (Verizon slows data transfers to 3G customers when networks are congested. AT&T slows data transfers after users hit a three-gigabyte monthly threshold.)
For now, Verizon’s LTE network has fewer than six million subscribers and isn’t being fully utilized—much less throttled—says Chetan Sharma, an independent wireless analyst based in Seattle. But as 3G subscribers migrate to LTE and more people buy smart phones, LTE congestion will become a greater risk, he adds.
Verizon is hardly the only player drumming up business. All of the major carriers are interested in boosting revenue by dreaming up and promoting new uses for faster wireless broadband—especially for business customers. “They really want to find out how to get revenue not just from consumers using networks, but from businesses,” says Janne Lindqvist, a research professor at the Winlab at Rutgers University. “I don’t find it surprising that even though they have congestion problems now, they are trying to find different ways to get more subscribers.”
Lindqvist says it’s not entirely clear how bad congestion really is, but says it’s not necessarily paradoxical to throttle data on the one hand while promoting more usage on the other. “This kind of fits the scheme: you limit consumers now so you can support more customers and applications later,” he says.