4G vs 4G LTE is the burning question in the wireless communication industry these days, and we hope to clear this up here. 4G is the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards, succeeding 2G and the current 3G standards, both of which were primarily designed for voice networks. When introduced sometime after the turn of the millenium, 4G wireless systems were expected to provide support for broadband services including interactive multimedia and wireless internet. The new 4G standard was to provide high speeds and high capacities at lower costs, and pave the way for ubiquitous mobile devices and scalable networks. In short, 4G was going to make wireless really pop!
Commercially the 4G vs 4G LTE question boils down to two key technologies going head to head against each other. 4G has come to mean the underlying WiMAX platform, and LTE (as described above) is the long term evolution of 3G.
Intel, Motorola and Samsung jointly developed a technology they trademarked as the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, or WiMAX. It consists of a family of telecommunications protocols that provide fixed and wireless Internet access and was the first 4G standard to gain wide acceptance in the U.S. WiMAX is built on the IEEE 802.16 standard, just as the wi-fi technology we are very familiar with. This standard promised speeds from three to six megabits per second, and bursts of up to ten megabits per second.
Just last year, Verizon launched its 4G LTE network. The standard represents the next milestone in the evolution of mobile broadband. LTE is based on the success of high speed packet access (HSPA), which has demonstrated steady growth over the years as mobile data traffic grows exponentially each year. This growth, in part was driven by robust mobile Internet offerings and dramatic improvements in user experience with new mobile devices. This means there is a great need for capacity enhancement in existing networks as subscribers expect improvements in service areas such as data rate enhancements and latency reduction. So LTE is accepted worldwide as the “long term evolution” (LTE) of today’s 2G and 3G networks. AT&T has just recently announced that it, too, would be a player in this field. To date, though, AT&T has yet to start offering any 4G LTE phones. Speeds can reportedly reach 100 megabits per second for downloads and half of that for uploads.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) does not recognize either standard as 4G, since neither meets the published standards. But more telling is that despite the differences touted by their respective marketers, the standards are actually quite strikingly similar in essence and implementation. Both are IP-based, although WiMAX is more at home with this, while LTE is GSM-based at its core.
In the end the 4G vs 4G LTE issue may be settled by marketing savvy, just as back in the 80s the dominant home video standard was settled by success in the marketplace. It’s just a matter of time until the market chooses which one to adopt, just as the market once selected VHS over Betamax.