What Does 4G Really Mean?

If you are a follower of the latest and greatest, you’ve probably been wondering what is the real deal behind “4G” and what it will do for you? To be honest, if you are a major browsing, emailing foolio, 4G begins to make some sense for you – assuming your market has coverage – or will soon.

Sprint shocked the universe by dropping their EVO handset at the CTIA convention in Las Vegas this week. What wasn’t pushed, is that the phone is built to be forward compatible, not unless until 4G comes to your town. Metro PCS also launched their Samsung LTE phone this week as well. Again, this device is designed to work on both their CDMA 3G network and their future LTE network. This is probably the way most devices will start coming mid-year on most of the carriers.

Now, you see LTE, CDMA, GSM, EDGE, UMTS, HSPDA+, etc… all over the web, and this is where we are really heading here. First off, current subscribers to cell companies are using either CDMA (Verizon/Sprint) or  GSM (AT&T/T-Mobile) for voice and data services in the US. Many people will proclaim that this network is better than that or that coverage is better on this carrier than that, but honestly, its about where you live and the coverage you get over the network that determines which carrier/network will be the ‘best’ for you.

Data speeds are something that are very important to smartphone users and the carrier’s technology has a big influence on speeds and reliability. We’ll look at download speeds for our example of how varied speeds are.

CDMA Carriers – 1xEVDO data speed averages: 300-600kbps

GSM Carriers – EDGE (2G) data speed averages:  135kbps

GSM Carriers –  HSDPA (3G) data speed averages: 600-1800kbps

WiMAX Data (Sprint/Clear 4G) –  up to 6Mbps (unknown)

LTE Data (Verizon/AT&T/T-Mobile) – up to 12Mbps (unknown)

So in the real world, 4G technology leaves a lot of room for ‘speed measurement’ and definitions. LTE data is expected to be ten times faster than the existing 3G CDMA network, but is only half the expected speed of the upcoming LTE networks. All of this will begin to play out faster than you can imagine as the cell companies move from voice plans to data plans, but for now, don’t be fooled by the talk. For now, a 3G network will do plenty for you – and will give you much better devices to choose from (until the next set of LTE/WiMAX phones hit!)


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