Everywhere you look you see advertisements from cell phone carriers regarding 4G coverage and since you see the promotions so frequently it almost appears as if 4G has arrived. The truth is 4G has not completely arrived yet and when companies such as T-Mobile, Verizon, and others advertise 4G it essentially means that they have upgraded the speed of data transfer from the current 3G networks. The upgrades are faster than 3G data transfer speeds but in most cases they are not true 4G data transfer speeds yet.
The upgraded 3G networks have a data transfer speed of anywhere from 4Mbps to 15Mbps on a download which is indeed faster than the conventional 3G speed of anywhere from 900Kbps to 2Mbps. You still get pretty good data transfer speed from this upgrade however it is still not true 4G network speed and here is why.
WiMax and LTE
The cell phone carrier industry typically refers to 4G and 4G hotspots as WiMax and LTE (Long Term Evolution) although they do not meet the criteria that define 4G by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ITU is the organization that defines the standards for wireless technology which begin with 1G and range up to 4G, the most current technology standard for wireless. However, the ITU considers future versions of WiMax and LTE as 4G technology as it evolves.
What Authentic 4G Entails
For a 4G hotspot and 4G that is offered by cell phone carriers to be considered authentic by the International Telecommunications Union the network technology must use OFDM, it must be IP-based, and it should be capable of performing at high data transfer speeds of 100Mbps (megabits per second) on download. OFDM stands for Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing which is a digital modulation process that splits a communication signal among multiple channels. Each channel operates at a different frequency level and the application of OFDM allows the channels to operate at close frequency without affecting the process of data transfer with any one channel.
While the network upgrades for Verizon, TMobile, Sprint, and AT&T have made the networks faster, these companies still have to work to develop 4G so that it meets the standards set forth by the ITU. Meanwhile, some of the promotional terms that are being used in TV commercials and other advertisements prove to be confusing for the consumer. The upside is that all of the major cell phone carriers are continually working to upgrade their networks so that one day 4G connectivity will be fully realized.
While 4G wireless and 4G hotspots are a work in process there are a few stipulations that consumers should be aware of.
- 3G Cell Phones and Network Upgrades: If you have a 3G cell phone it will be unable to fully utilize the current network upgrades and 4G hotspots. Instead, you need a newer phone that is compatible with WiMax and LTE depending upon the wireless carrier you use. This was more of an issue in the latter part of 2010 until more carriers began to release 4G phones in their portfolio of mobile devices.
- 4G Performance is Based on Different Factors: The upgraded networks which are being promoted to consumers as 4G have many variables that come into play when it comes to network performance. The data transfer speed being advertised may not be the case if you do not have a newer device, the network may be overcrowded at peak times, the number of users sharing the wireless reduces bandwidth, and other factors that affect the performance when you connect to a 4G hotspot.
- Network Coverage for 4G: If you have a new 4G phone you will only reap the benefits of the faster data transfer rate if you use the phone in an area that offers 4G technology and 4G hotspots. If you are not in an area that offers 4G, your phone will revert back to the 3G technology despite the fact that you have a newer 4G device.
Although wireless carriers must strive to meet the ITU requirements for classifying authentic 4G technology, the upgraded networks are still a huge improvement for data transfer and contain the edge when they are compared with the older data speeds with 3G technology. Additionally, if you are looking for 4G connectivity and hotspots in your area it is important to keep in mind that 4G is not yet being offered in all geographical locations due to the fact that it is still considered to be in its infancy. However, as 4G technology evolves and 4G hotspots become more common this will provide many new opportunities for consumers, thanks to the high rate of data transfer that 4G offers which allows the use of more multimedia applications on the go to be possible.