What’s up with 4G-LTE?

Situation

4G or 4G-LTE is touted as the newest and fastest mobile data network speed but how it’s being marked is confusing at best. Here is a brief snapshot.

What is it?

4G stands for the fourth generation of cell phone standards, the successor of the current 3G standards.

The big advantage of 4G is that it provides faster Internet data transfer rates than any existing cellular services (except Broadband and WiFi).

It is designed for laptops with USB wireless modems, smart phones, and other mobile devices. There are two major 4G systems deployed; the WiMAX standard (Korea — 2006) and Long Term Evolution (LTE — Sweden — 2009), but the debate over the technical standards of each are evolving. While technical standards are supposed to be international, it seems that countries are putting their own spin on them (such as frequency bands) so that right now there is no agreement on an international 4G-LTE standard or device.

In the U.S., the four available LTE services are provided by MetroPCS, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and US Cellular providing service with Sprint Nextel to switch from WiMAX to LTE soon.

Why would you need it? Many folks are using their smartphones and tablets as their computer/telephone/entertainment system. With increased data usage, speeds are maxing out on the current 3G networks and 4G is hoped to be the answer for high-definition mobile TV, 3D TV, VoIP, video conferencing, and on-line gaming services to name a few applications.

Pros

4G promises to be faster than the current 3G network and provide more capacity and speed. The peak data speeds of LTE are 100 Mbit/s down and 50 Mbit/s up, with WiMax at 128 Mbit/s down, 56 Mbit/s up. Current 3G speeds are about 2 Mbit/s walking and 384 Kbit/s in a moving vehicle. As you can see — a big difference in performance!

Cons

4G networks are not “backward compatible” with 3G. 4G also runs on different frequencies in different places, and is technically complex as it has to be reliable while you’re moving. There is no “standard;” some places use 4G WiMAX and others are using some flavor of 4G LTE.

Bottom-line

According to PCWorld Newsletter (April, 2012), the fastest coast-to-coast 3G carrier was T-Mobile (down & up) and the fastest 4G carriers were AT&T (down) and Verizon (up).

While the 4G terminology is arbitrary and specifications are constantly evolving, a good rule of thumb is to check with Professor Google as well as your friends to see which service seems to be best in the geography that you will use it in the most. Some users swear by one carrier over another, but most just swear at them.