Before we hear too much about how cell, WiMax, and Wi-Fi networks aren't as fast as promised, let's cast a steely eye on wired services: Whether fiber, coax, or phone lines are involved, the New York Times reports on how variables service can be at higher data rates. Wireless, of course, has more difficulties because wireline service tends to be consistent, with congestion being a secondary problem after basic line conditions. If the line is good, it's typically good for as long as the wire or glass is intact. The route out to the Internet at the ISP then becomes the next important factor, and we already know service provider dramatically oversell the ratio between downstream bandwidth to customers and their downstream feed from the Internet--ratios can vary from 20 to 100 to 1 oversell.
Interesting conclusion is that if you get a very fast service--like 15 to 50 Mbps cable or fiber--you're probably outstripping most Web sites and Internet services' ability to deliver. Thus, fast enough could really be fast enough. With enough speed, however, you could have true IPTV over the Internet, rather than over provisioned chunks of broadband that are set aside for provider-to-customer feeds.
There's a great chart embedded in this article that shows the price of various wired services at various speeds--although sometimes a commitment of 6 to 12 months required to achieve the listed price. This shows what $20 per month "1 Mbps" Wi-Fi will be contending against. I have long maintained that symmetrical 1 Mbps service over Wi-Fi has a great advantage over, say, 1.5 Mbps down/256 Kbps up DSL service, even if the latter costs about the same. The slight downstream advantage is outweighed for anyone who creates media and uploads it--like photos and video--for having that bigger upstream pipe.
For myself, I have Speakeasy Networks' DSL service at home (1.5 Mbps/384 Kbps) and work (3.0 Mbps/768 Kbps). When I perform downloads from companies that have large pipes, I typically see nearly the full speed that's feasible. I discovered a good test of this is to download files that are hosted at Amazon.com's S3 storage-system-for-hire. Amazon has a wicked amount of bandwidth available out to the Internet on that platform.