What does 4G really mean?

Plenty of people have been tossing around the term 4G lately. It seems like every mobile carrier claims to have the biggest or fastest 4G network around. So, what precisely is this 4G that everybody’s talking about?



Even though each of the key wireless providers, such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, have recently introduced smartphones with a “4G” network connection, it appears the definition of 4G varies from network to network. Let’s discuss the various definitions of “4G”.





Both AT&T and T-Mobile have been utilizing HSPA for their 3G networks and HSPA is basically the same network with enhanced capacity. T-Mobile is now offering the improved technology in more major metropolitan areas than their HSPA competitor.





This is the technology that is currently being implemented by Verizon. The LTE network is based on Global System for Media (GSM) technology, rather than Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), which Verizon has always used. LTE has a higher capacity and offers download speeds of 5-12 Mbps, the equivalent of a typical home broadband connection.



In Verizon’s case, the LTE network is completely separate from the network that Verizon’s current users are on, reducing the chances of overcrowding.





Wi-Max is also GSM-based, and it was originally regarded as the major contender for a 4G standard. Unfortunately, Wi-Max is not as fast as Verizon’s LTE network, but it is faster than AT&T and T-Mobile’s HSPA .



Unlike the other mobile carriers, Sprint’s version of a 4G network has been around for many months, meaning that their users were able to benefit from this technology long before users of other networks.



As you can see, there is no standard definition of a “4G” network. Luckily for us, the options are improving and the coverage is growing. Pretty soon, every carrier will have an enhanced network to choose from.



For more information on 4G networks and what they really mean, check out this Popular Science article.