What is 4G?
It seems like you can’t go more than an hour while watching TV without hearing about some kind of new smartphone technology. The newest batch of commercials advertise super fast devices that connect to even faster 4G wireless Internet networks. But what is 4G? What do you know about it besides the fact that it’s supposedly faster than 3G? What is 3G for that matter? Let’s get technical for a minute and find out what these Gs mean.
Right now, most people are using 3G phones accessing 3G networks. 3G stands for third generation, as in the third generation of wireless standards, specifically the standards set by the International Telecommunication Union. In order for a system to be considered 3G, it must allow simultaneous use of speech and data services, and provide peak data rates of at least 200 kbit/s.
The standards for a 4G network are higher of course, requiring download speeds between 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps. For those that don’t speak bps’, that’s really fast; faster than anything available right now, including what the commercials are calling 4G. That’s right; the 4G currently on offer isn’t “true” 4G because it doesn’t hit the speed requirements.
So how can the carriers call their networks 4G when they’re not? As Wired.com explains:
“In December at the ITU World Radiocommunication Seminar in Geneva, the ITU allowed the term “4G” to “also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement” compared to current 3G networks.”
It Only Gets Better
What does all this mean for users of these new quasi-4G networks? It’s only going to get better from here. Speeds will increase and coverage will expand. Early adopters will enjoy faster speeds than 3G, and be on the cutting edge of 4G technology as it develops. The only downside is on the device side. If you purchase a 4G device right now, it might also include 3G tech in it so it can use a 3G network connection when a 4G network isn’t available. That extra tech takes up extra space and uses extra power, which means slightly heavier devices with shorter battery lives. Still, some extra charging time could be a small price to pay for lightning fast speeds.
The Arrival of Full 4G
The coverage area of each 4G network is expanding every day. The WiMAX and LTE networks appear to be the furthest along right now, with services in many major U.S. cities. Still, the coverage is far from what you can get with 3G right now, and it isn’t expected to fully match 3G coverage till 2013. That means if your area isn’t covered at the moment, you might be better off waiting on 4G till it expands further. If you are in a coverage area, however, and you want the fastest mobile Internet available, 4G is as good as it gets. All of the major carriers have already announced or released 4G enabled phones, capable of connecting to 3G and 4G networks. With most carriers offering two year contracts with a wireless device, you can purchase your 4G enabled device and ride the wave as the technology improves.