Let’s take a closer look at the most important aspects of 4G and delve deeper into the specifics of its two representatives, WiMAX and LTE. We are not planning to use words like megahertz, gigahertz, channels and architecture or elaborate on technical details, because we bet most customers are far more interested in what they will be getting in real life, rather than the technical details behind it.
Before we get to down to brass tacks, however, let’s first talk about...
3G networks today
The third generation mobile telecommunication networks (UMTS, CDMA EV-DO) first took off back in 2001 in Japan (2003 in the USA). All told, they allow for much faster data transfers and made possible the wide adoption of services like video calls (in Europe), video sharing (on AT&T) as well as VoIP.
4G and faster speeds
For the sake of accuracy, we have to point out that neither WiMAX, nor LTE, as they exist today, meet the full requirements of the 4G standard. Still, they offer quite a bit more than contemporary 3G networks. Of course, the most important aspect here is data transfer and we are talking about download and upload speed that is 2-3 and even more times faster alongside of 3G at its best. In other words, you can do more things on a 4G device, say, watch HD videos online, have high quality calls over the Internet, use a handset as a Wi-Fi modem, etc. Moreover, the improved throughput allows for comfortable use of one and the same network cell by up to ten times more people, so service failures are less likely to happen even in peak usage scenarios. The good thing about 4G with this respect is if you happen to be in area with overlapping coverage provided by several cells, you will get higher download and upload speeds.
So, that’s about all when it comes to the fundamentals of 4G. Now, let’s delve deeper into...
If you think there is something in common between WiMAX and Wi-Fi... well, you are right to an extent. They both allow for wireless connectivity, but WiMAX is functional over much greater distance (miles) and is based on IEEE 802.16, while Wi-Fi utilizes a different standard - IEEE 802.11. Theoretically, the former allows for download speeds of up to 40Mbps, although the peak throughput has been found to be around 6Mbps in real life (according to data by Clearwire). One of the greatest advantages of WiMAX is that the necessary infrastructure is already in place in a few countries.
At the time being, the technology is usable unless your relative speed exceeds 75mph. This is not much of a stumbling block really, since you will hardly ever need to use the internet while flying on the road, but still, LTE networks are free from such a limitation. Another disadvantage of WiMAX is its relatively high latency at data transfers and this is bad news for avid gamers wanting to playing fast-paced online games in real time.
The technology is actually quite similar to the existing 3G networks and will probably manage to outrival WiMAX... in the future. It’s taking its first steps and although the overwhelming majority of carriers around the world are intent to cast their lot in with LTE, there is still not even one finished project, not to mention most carriers are still at the initial stage of the infrastructure deployment process.
LTE seems to have turned the tide in its favor since it offers certain advantages over WiMAX. In theory, the technology is capable of delivering download speeds in the order of 70Mbps (Nokia-Siemens), although we highly doubt it that we will see something better than 5-12Mbps in real life, depending on the number of cells and particular region. Still, lab tests indicate the overall network latency is about five times lower, plus LTE remains fully usable even for people moving at a speed of 220mph. The technology seems better suited for phone calls as well, since it allows for algorithms that are similar to those used with 3G networks today, while WiMAX relies on data transfer based on standard that resembles VoIP.
Handsets of the future
It’s only logical that with WiMAX networks already deployed in certain countries, we get to see more and more handsets that support the technology. The HTC EVO 4G makes for an illustrative example - the cell phone is rolling out on Sprint in the US this summer. However, there are still just a handful of devices capable of utilizing the technology and most of them are built into modems and laptops.
It seems we are about a year away from getting our hands on the first handsets to support LTE. Most major companies in the sector have already joined the LTE camp, so it seems certain that we will see a great number of thrilling devices in the near future.
sources: Wikipedia, LTE, WiMAX Forum