SEBRING Kenneth Cribb's job regularly takes him from Avon Park to Venus. “Verizon has LTE in parts of Sebring. A co-worker was receiving 20 mbps download speed in the downtown Sebring area. Their coverage map shows 4G/LTE in the majority of Highlands County. Pretty impressive.” Yes, the major telephone companies are confirming that 4G is now available in Highlands. So what the heck is 4G?
First-generation wireless networks were analog. That 1980s technology was enough to carry voices, but little else. Second-generation phones could handle basic 1990s digital data – text messaging and email. The 3G networks of the early 2000s cut the cord and made the Internet wireless for smart phones. With a fast wireless fidelity connection, users could stream audio-video, although the experience was often maddening slow. Without a speedy data connection, even the most expensive smart phones were blind and dumb. Even maps didn't always work. Now, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint are introducing 4G, which makes data (audio, photos, whatever) go lickety split. What this means is that Highlands County customers can now: Download data faster. The difference will be noticed when playing games or movies, downloading a webpage, or calling on two-way video. Buy jazzy new devices. And that, of course, is one reason why the major wireless networks upgraded just a few years after offering 3G. Over the past five years, AT&T invested nearly $98 billion into national operations and $2.8 billion into Florida wireless and wireline networks from 2010 through 2012. AT&T and Verizon alone offer dozens of 40 LTE compatible smartphones and tablets. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution – high-speed data for phones and mobile devices. Together, 4G and LTE are the fastest service available today. AT&T's 4G LTE network delivers speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G, as well as multiple innovations that optimize the network for performance, and LTE waves penetrate buildings more effectively than wi-fi's shorter, weaker radio waves. That's more important in dense cityscapes. “As for T-Mobile, well, their service is lacking in Sebring and Avon Park,” Cribb said. “I have registered 3G data rates – between 1.5 to 2.2 mbps download; however, in Lake Placid T-Mobile is delivering data speeds between 8 to 12 mbps. Their upload data speeds are consistently the best that I have seen in the county – at an average 1.5 mbps.” Verizon officially rolled out 4G three years ago in Florida and last month in Highlands County. Ron Tharp of Lake Placid and his wife use their 4G phones to read credit cards for her fabric store, Granny Sue Quilts. For folks who use their phone as a computer, 4G will be a welcome upgrade, Tharp said. “Most people we know just use their phone like a phone.” “Verizon first launched 4G LTE in Florida's major markets in December 2010, and has been expanding it quickly ever since,” said Verizon spokesman Ed Gilhuly. “Currently, more than 90 percent of the state's population has access to Verizon 4G LTE.” By the end of this year Verizon will have effectively covered the state. Michele Money-Carson, AT&T's senior public relations consultant in West Florida, said Highlands County got 4G last week. She said AT&T does not have an exact date or timeframe for when the expansion in Highlands County will be complete.