Menu

4G – What is it anyway?

by Morgan Archer

The term ‘4G’ is being thrown around a lot in the mobile telecommunications industry. But what exactly is it? What separates 4G and 3G? More importantly, what makes it better?

So what is 4G?

4G is the industry’s term to describe the fourth generation of cellular network technology. As 4G was starting its rollout worldwide, we had three competing technologies:

LTE –  Long Term Evolution, LTE is the preferred technology for larger mobile carriers
WiMax – Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, WiMax has been around longer than LTE and was originally intended as a backhaul communications technology
HSPA+ –  Evolved High-Speed Packet Access, we’re not really sure if it could be considered 4G because its speeds aren’t nearly as high as its competitor 4G technologies.

These technologies competed to gain majority use. However, like Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, only one can survive in the long run. LTE is now officially the technology for providers to use when rolling out their 4G networks in Australia.

As LTE is a completely different technology to current 3G networks, no current Australian release handset will function on any of the 4G networks being implemented here.

Where did 4G come from?

It began with an analogue network, which I’m going to refer to as ‘1G’ for the sake of simplicity. ‘2G’ came along when everything turned digital and things like SMS, MMS and GPRS data services were introduced. ‘2.5’ (or ‘EDGE’) was soon introduced to produce faster data speeds. As people started using their phone for more data intensive activities ‘3G’ came on to the scene, producing much higher data rates than anything already in existence.

Another upgrade to improve data speeds even further came along under the moniker of ‘3.5G’ or ‘HSDPA’. All of this brings us to the present where we now have 4G, which will once again increase data speeds as our population increases its need for mobile data and broadband.

How much faster will this 4G be?

Well to draw a quick comparison we’ll show LTE (4G) vs. HSPA+ (not sure if it’s really 4G) vs. 3G (these are theoretical maximums)

LTE (4G)  – Max downstream of 100MBps – 1GBps
HSPA+ (not sure if it’s really 4G) – Max downstream of 21MBps – 672MBps
3G – Max downstream of ~14.4MBps

As you can see, despite these only being theoretical maximums the downstream through-puts are very impressive.

It’s only early days yet, but I imagine we’ll be seeing the latest in 4G handsets hitting the markets within the next 12 months. So sit tight, we should all be seeing blistering fast speeds on our smartphones very soon. Here’s to another generation of mobile telecommunications.

7 comments

  1. Scott says:

    HSPA+ is an add-on to the WCDMA radio interface. Some of the extra features are higher order modulation schemes, packet scheduling and Hybrid ARQ. WCDMA with HSPA+ is sometimes called 3.8G.

    LTE is 3.9G; LTE-Advanced is likely to satisfy the ITU-T requirements for 4G.

  2. Brian says:

    “As LTE is a completely different technology to current 3G networks, no current Australian release handset will function on any of the 4G networks being implemented here, with one exception.”
    Ans that exception is?

  3. Morgan Archer says:

    “HSPA+ is an add-on to the WCDMA radio interface. Some of the extra features are higher order modulation schemes, packet scheduling and Hybrid ARQ. WCDMA with HSPA+ is sometimes called 3.8G.

    LTE is 3.9G; LTE-Advanced is likely to satisfy the ITU-T requirements for 4G.”

    Yes however Telco’s around the world have attempted to market it 4G

    ““As LTE is a completely different technology to current 3G networks, no current Australian release handset will function on any of the 4G networks being implemented here, with one exception.”
    Ans that exception is?”

    Typo, that should have been removed
    I’ll have that Edited 😛

  4. Morgan Archer says:

    I would also like to comment that I tried to stay away from the technical names for the technologies in order to simply things.

    News media and Telcos all commonly go by simpler terms such as LTE when referring to LTE-Advanced and 4G

    Going deeply into the technical side would just alienate our ‘not-so-tech-savvy’ readers.

    This blog is read by a wide variety of users and the article was intended to simplify and explain what is happening.

  5. Isla says:

    I would like to thank Morgan for simplifying the techno terms as he is correct, it is very easy to alienate users. EG.Scott’s comments.

  6. Lee says:

    I’m an early-ish adapter mobile user (my first mobile was a little-brick Nokia analogue), so I’m not a techno-phobe, but I do find that the more complex the technology, the harder it is for us ‘mere mortals’ to understand it. I currently have an iPhone 4 using Optus as a carrier. With over a year left on my contract (expires early Feb 2013), will I start having problems with my connections before then?

    • Adam O'grady says:

      Providers should still be keeping all their existing 3G and GPRS equipment available as well, so you can continue to use your current phone for some time.

Menu

Search