4G is the fourth generation of mobile data standards. It supersedes the older 3G standards and allows for far faster wireless data transfer rates. What this means is that 4G will provide much faster internet speeds on mobile phones. This can make webpages load faster and allow higher quality streaming of music and video as well as enabling the transfer of large files. In fact, with a good 4G signal, data transfer rates can even exceed typical current home broadband speeds.
Many people are currently familiar with the third generation of mobile wireless communication standards, or 3G. However, 4G is supposed to revolutionise the mobile data experience. 3G coverage has been strong in the UK but it has also encountered several problems as it is gradually rolled out – 4G is set to sweep all these aside. As it’s an entirely new generation of communication standards, its adoption will require a complete replacement of technology, with 4G compatible devices and masts totally replacing the handsets and networks of its 3G predecessor.
The international telecommunications regulatory and standardisation body has set a rough timescale of between 2012 and 2015 for 4G mobile broadband networks to be rolled out commercially in the US and Europe. In the UK, O2 is trialling its 4G network in Slough and has asked upon Huawei to install LTE technology in six masts across the town to allow people to talk to each other via HD video calls and play PlayStation games while on the move.
The 4G system was originally envisioned with distributed architecture, end-to-end IP and peer-to-peer networking in order to eliminate the spoke-and-hub weakness of 2G and 3G cellular systems. Nowadays, mobile networks that use orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) instead of time division multiple access (TDMA) or code division multiple access (CDMA) are increasingly marketing their services as being 4G, even when their data speeds are not as fast as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) specifies and thus technically only 3G at best.
The poor speeds and high levels of data congestion on current 3G networks make the upgrade to 4G mobile broadband necessary. This situation becomes increasingly true as more powerful mobile streaming devices and greater adoption of cloud computing require an ever increasing amount of bandwidth.
4G coverage should provide mobiles with the ability to download at 100 Mbps. Similarly, pre-4G technologies such as WiMAX and LTE have been on the market since 2006 and 2009 respectively and, although they are often branded as 4G in marketing materials, they do not fulfil the ITU data rate requirements. Currently, 3G networks can provide speeds as low as 3.84 Mbps and even with the latest HSPA+ standards and MIMO, they can only reach a maximum of 56 Mbps.