4G or not 4G, That is the Question

4G is the new buzz word with major mobile carriers, as they all strive to deliver the next generation of high speed mobile broadband to their customers. But what is 4G? And is every major carrier really offering 4G service?  As it turns out, they are not.

The top four carriers in the US are (in order by subscribers) Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.  And each of them offer some version of what they call 4G.  Sprint offers Mobile WIMAX as their 4G offering, which can offer peak download speeds of 128 Mbit/s. Verizon and AT&T both offer LTE, which offers peak download speeds of 100 Mbit/s, and are scheduled to move to the LTE Advanced system in 2012, which will support 1Gbit/s downloads.  T-Mobile uses HSPA+, which can offer peak download speeds of 88 Mbit/s.

None of these meet the International Telecommunication Union’s definition of 4G, which requires download capability of 1 Gbit/s for stationary reception and 100 Mbit/s for mobile.  LTE Advanced, which isn’t released yet, is the only US network that can accomplish this.

So is there any 4G service in the US?  Actually no.  What the major carriers are branding as 4G is actually considered near-4G or 3.9G by the worldwide community. Recently, Representative Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) introduced the Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act to require carriers to disclose their true mobile broadband capabilities.  As smart phones and tablets continue to saturate the market, hopefully this will be the first step in reducing consumer confusion about what they are REALLY getting with their data plan.


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