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Everybody loves speedy internet, so it’s no surprise that every major telecom firm in the country is working to make it even faster. Smartphones, watches, homes, and cars are increasingly requiring stable internet connections.
When you’re looking at buying a new phone, you might find that there are way too many acronyms to choose from, between CDMA, GSM, LTE, and WiMax; the list goes on. What does any of these mean? It can be easier to focus simply on the differences in these networks as they apply to you directly.
The simplest explanation is that the “G” in 4G stands for generation, that is fourth generation of mobile data technology, as defined by the radio sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
What is 4G?
The ITU set standards for 4G connectivity in March of 2008, requiring all services described as 4G to adhere to a set of speed and connection standards. For mobile use, including smartphones and tablets, connection speeds need to have a peak of at least 100 megabits per second, and for more stationary uses such as mobile hotspots, at least 1 gigabit per second.
When these standards were announced, these speeds were unheard of in the practical world, because they were intended as a target for technology developers, a point that marked a significant jump over the current technology. Over time, the systems that power these networks have caught up, not just in the sense that new broadcasting methods have found their way into products, but the previously-established 3G networks have been improved to the point that they can be classified as 4G.
What is LTE?
LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, and is nott as much a technology as it is the path followed to achieve 4G speeds. As it stands, most of the time when your phone displays the “4G” symbol in the upper right corner, it doesn’t really mean it. When the ITU set the minimum speeds for 4G, they were a bit unreachable, despite the amount of money tech manufacturers put into achieving them. In response, the regulatory body decided that LTE, the name given to the technology used in pursuit of those standards, could be labeled as 4G if it provided a substantial improvement over the 3G technology.
Immediately networks began advertising their connections as 4G LTE, a marketing technique that allowed them to claim next-gen connectivity without having to reach the actual required number first; it would be like the U.S. claiming they had landed on the moon because they got pretty close and the spaceship that got them there was a lot better than the previous ship. It’s not entirely trickery though, despite inconsistent speeds depending on location and network, the difference between 3G and 4G is immediately noticeable.
To make matters more confusing, you’ll also likely come across LTE-A at some point. This stands for Long Term Evolution Advanced, and it takes us a step closer to proper 4G. It offers faster speeds and greater stability than normal LTE. It’s also backwards compatible and works by aggregating channels, so instead of connecting to the strongest signal in your vicinity, you can download data from multiple sources at the same time.
So the real question is, can you feel a difference between 4G and LTE networks? Is the speed of loading a page or downloading an app on your handheld device a lot faster if you have LTE technology built in? Probably not, unless you live in a city. While the difference between slower 3G networks and new 4G or LTE networks is certainly very noticeable, many of the 4G and “true 4G” networks have upload and download speeds that are almost identical. The roll out of LTE-A is starting to make a difference, but your mileage may vary. For now, LTE-A is the fastest connection available for wireless networks.
Challenges of using 4G, 4G LTE
When comparing the two, one challenge of using 4G and 4G LTE – if you’re currently using 3G – is that you will probably need to purchase a new smartphone with 4G capabilities. 3G devices simply cannot provide the 4G experience. You must also be in an area that offers a 4G network. If you want to use 4G LTE, your mobile device must support it, and you must be in an area that delivers 4G LTE service.
Another challenge is choosing a cell phone carrier that offers 4G or 4G LTE service. 4G is offered in most areas now, but 4G LTE may not be available. That’s why it’s important to check your carrier’s coverage map. If experiencing 4G LTE is something that matters to you, you will want to find a carrier that offers the most 4G LTE coverage.
Choosing 4G or 4G LTE
Choosing 4G or 4G LTE comes down to what speeds you require or prefer. If you need or want the fastest speeds available, you will want to buy a smartphone that supports 4G LTE. In addition, you will want to check the coverage maps for different carriers to see who offers 4G LTE in the most areas, or at least the areas where you spend the most time such as your home and workplace. It’s also a good idea to visit a wireless retail location to test the different network speeds yourself. You will find a noticeable difference between 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE.