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Phones

With LTE, Are You Still Prioritizing WiFi?

By Joe Levi November 14, 2012, 12:11 pm

Wi-Fi is one of the greatest technological advancements of our time. Networking without wires, and without the need for a large deployment of towers and antennae. It's relatively fast and very easy to set up by average people: just plug in a couple wires, and tap a "connect" button on the router and the device to be paired. Range, however, is limited to around 1,000-feet — under perfect conditions.

The advantages of Wi-Fi might also be considered weaknesses. Public places that offer free Wi-Fi are regularly inundated with far too many people trying to access the network and bandwidth is quickly gobbled up. This results in a frustrating experience for everyone. On numerous occasions I've hopped onto the public (or semi-public) Wi-Fi only to find out my cellular data is significantly faster!

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Using Wi-Fi rather than a cellular data connection also has advantages when it comes to battery life. As long as you're actually connected to an access point (not endlessly searching for one) the power savings of using a reliable Wi-Fi connection over cellular are worth noting.

Some carriers and/or OEMs even think that Wi-Fi is so supremely desirable that they force your device to turn on Wi-Fi, even if you don't want it to.

Then there's speed

In the not-so-distant past, cellular data wasn't all that fast. 3G was around, but in practice it didn't give us more than 1 or 2 Mbps. "4G" got off to a rocky start with Wi-Max and LTE competing for dominance, and deployments taking longer than we'd hoped. T-Mobile decided to go all-in with their bet on HSPA+. Verizon and AT&T opted for LTE. Eventually Sprint scrapped Wi-Max for LTE.

LTE is fast. No, seriously: LTE is very fast. Some argue that the incredible speed is because not many people are on LTE networks when compared to traditional 3G networks. There's probably some truth to that. However, what makes any network really "fast" isn't necessarily the speed of the wireless connection, rather, it's the speed of the pipe to which the network is connected. Put another way, if you don't have sufficient throughput running to a tower, any wireless connections to the tower will suffer. The back-haul can be (and often is) the bottleneck.

My experiences with LTE

I've reviewed my fair share of LTE-enabled smartphones. One thing continually blows my mind: LTE on these smartphones is always faster than the speeds my cable Internet connection provides. Not just a little faster, a LOT faster.

That raises the question: with LTE being so fast and covering most of the places that I need to be, why am I still connecting to Wi-Fi? Why don't I just turn off Wi-Fi and rely completely upon LTE? I, for one, can't come up with a good reason not to.

What about you? Tell us about your experiences with LTE compared to Wi-Fi. Have you flipped the switched and turned your phone's Wi-Fi off? Why, or why not? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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