Fourth-generation (4G) broadband wireless networks are a few years away from widespread use, but the technology (designed to be 10 times faster than anything available today) got a big boost Monday when Nordic telecommunications operator TeliaSonera opened up the first commercial 4G network. The networks—available only in Oslo, Norway, and Stockholm, Sweden, at this time—are expected to provide the necessary speed and bandwidth for services that let people watch TV, play games and participate in Web conferences via mobile devices.

Although the first major 4G rollouts aren't expected until late  2010 with wider deployments by 2012, the technology's toehold in Nordic countries is significant due to the widespread use of wireless broadband in that region. Although there are currently no mobile phones on the market that can access these hyper-fast networks, TeliaSonera is offering customers special 4G Samsung modems that will let them connect their mobile devices.

TeliaSonera plans to expand these networks to 25 Swedish cities and three more Norwegian ones by the end of 2010, at a cost of roughly $70 million, The Wall Street Journal reports. But there are some "ifs" that need to be addressed before this happens. For one, the Samsung modems are not compatible with existing 3G networks, which means customers will need a 3G modem as well in the event their travels take them out of the 4G coverage area, according to The Journal. A combined 3G-4G modem is expected to be available by next summer.

TeliaSonera can expect some competition in the 4G space next year, when Verizon Wireless is expected to roll out its next-gen wireless network commercially. The Journal reports that Verizon is already running some trials with Alcatel–Lucent and Ericsson as well as NTT DoCoMo.

The 4G network is based upon technology known as Long Term Evolution (LTE). In order for a network to qualify as 4G, it must have target peak data rates of up to about 100 megabits per second, compared with 3G's peak of about 10 megabits per second.

The development of 4G networks is a crucial component of the "connected car" presented last month in New York City by Alcatel–Lucent and a number other companies that form the ng Connect Program. The idea is to turn automobiles themselves into conduits for the Internet, giving drivers and passengers access to navigational help, streaming movies, video games and other online services via touch screens embedded into the dashboard and seats.

Image of Helsinki © Mikko Paananen via Wikimedia Commons