What Is 4G?

If you are confused as to what 4G means other than faster access to and from your smartphone or tablet, you are not alone. There are several competing technologies including T-Mobile’s HSPA+, Sprint’s WiMax and Verizon’s recent LTE among  others. And each technology does improve througput to  your smartphone or other tablet/device – but the amounts vary and the consistency also varies by location. As usual, like auto dealer’s claims of miles per gallon, the vendors claims for throughput are well below their theoretical maximums. More confusion – technology is on a 1-2 year tear trying to goose up throughput much closer to their maximums. Engadget’s 4G primer catches this explicitly:

Where WiMAX and LTE fall short, though, is in raw speed. The former tops out at around 40Mbps and the latter around 100Mbps theoretical, while practical, real-world speeds on commercial networks so far have tended to range between around 4Mbps and 30Mbps — well short of IMT-Advanced’s lofty (and, arguably, most important) goal. Updates to these standards — WiMAX 2 and LTE-Advanced, respectively — promise to do the job, but neither has been finalized yet… and production networks that make use of them are still years away.

So improvements are coming but the time frame is fragile given the recovery. But more interesting is what Engadget describes as the loss of controll of what the tech spec means as described here:

The story’s not over, though. T-Mobile USA, which has no publicly-announced plans to upgrade its HSPA network to LTE any time soon, decided late last year to start branding its HSPA+ upgrade as “4G,” too. In principle, the move makes some sense: the 3G technology path will ultimately scale to speeds well beyond what mere LTE can achieve today, eventually coming within spitting distance of IMT-Advanced. There are many markets where T-Mobile’s 21Mbps HSPA+ network is faster than Sprint’s WiMAX network. And neither Sprint, Verizon, nor MetroPCS — the three American carriers with live WiMAX / LTE networks — are offering VoIP yet; they’re still falling back on their 3G airwaves for voice, and will continue to do so for some time. Furthermore, T-Mobile will upgrade to 42Mbps this year, still without touching LTE!Arguably, it was T-Mobile’s move that really sparked a fundamental rethinking of what “4G” means to the phone-buying public. AT&T, which is in the process of upgrading to HSPA+ and will start offering LTE in some markets later this year, is calling both of these networks 4G — and naturally, neither Sprint nor Verizon have even thought about backing down on their end. All four US national carriers seem entrenched at this point, having successfully stolen the 4G label from the ITU — they’ve taken it, run with it, and reshaped it.

To make matters worse the new smartphones lag well behind the new technology. Example- the iPhone 4 for Verizon is 3G only, unable to take advantage of Verizon’s newly released “4G” LTE network enhancements. In sum getting good and realistic 4G is going to be a caseof Buyer Beware. So checkout the Engadget report or track  all the daily  ins and outs at DSLReports.