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What Is 4G Network Technology

The term 4G originally referred to a new generation of wireless network technology designed to deliver fast wireless broadband service to mobile devices. Whereas previous generation networks rely partly on older circuit switched technology, the new networks are simpler and they operate using Internet protocol (IP) only. 4G networks also use an encoding method called OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) to jam more data packets into less wireless spectrum, and they use multiple antennas in the radios to improve signal reception and decrease latency.

3G networks, on the other hand, have their roots in second generation cellular voice networks. The 2G networks became 3G networks after carriers began using CDMA encoding technology to permit the delivery of Internet access, not just voice. Over time, CDMA encoding became more efficient and 3G networks began to deliver reasonably fast Internet access. But with the advent of bandwidth hungry mobile devices like the iPhone, it soon became clear that 3G networks would not be able to fulfill demand for wireless data over the long haul, and that an all-new, all-IP wireless network would need to be built.

So is 4G service better and faster than 3G? Well, not exactly and not yet. Some wireless carries (Sprint and Verizon) have moved to build 4G networks from the ground up. But others AT&T and T-Mobile have chosen to soup up their existing 3G networks, with advanced encoding technologies such as HSPA+. They hope to wring additional performance and capacity from these older networks before building 4G (LTE) networks of their own.

And so far, their late stage 3G networks are indeed achieving network speeds comparable to those managed by the early stage 4G WiMax and LTE networks and Verizon. The marketing departments at AT&T and T-Mobile have seized on this convenient fact as justification for labeling their network service and devices as 4G. The reality however, is that even Sprint’s and Verizon’s networks are not yet fast enough to satisfy the IEEE’s definition of a 4G network, and not until Sprint upgrades to WiMax 2 and Verizon upgrades to LTE Advanced will such speeds be possible.

All of this byplay renders current informal usage of 4G effectively, meaningless. The good news is that it does not matter much right now. The test of any wireless technology regardless of what it’s called is still its real world performance in the areas where you live and do business over the two year term of your service contract. And no clear winners and losers are likely to emerge in the 4G speed derby in the next two years, all four major carriers have solid technology road maps place to continue ramping up their systems speeds at least in the near future and all seem willing to spend the money needed to make their networks faster and biggest.

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Topic Under: 5/06/2011
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  1. Thanks for writing this. I really feel as though I know so much more about this than I did before. Your blog really brought some things to light that I never would have thought about before reading it. You should continue this, Im sure most people would agree youve got a gift.


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