With all the talk around about 4G and the wireless industry, before we can get into what is 4G and LTE Technology, let’s take a little trip down memory lane with the Mobile phone. We need to take a quick look at the evolution over the years that this technology has made.
This was known as the first generation of wireless. It was first introduced to the world in the 80’s and used an analog technology. It was where phones such as the brick phone or car phones would put out 3 watts of power for better range and a cellular tower could cover an area of about 40 to 50 miles without any issues due to the lack of data transmissions and the error correcting it requires, it was strictly used for voice phone calls. The phones were larger in size and a lot more durable.
Next came the second generation of wireless technology. This evolved came about in the early 90’s and was the introduction of digital such as TDMA, CDMA 1X and GSM GPRS came into the picture. This was when data on the phone began its existence. It was still very slow data but it was a beginning and the consumer started to have the options of surfing the internet while on the move. The phones got a lot smaller and due to the digital technology and the error corrections needed for data, coverage started to degrease on sites requiring carriers to deploy more sites for a particular area. It also is when the power on the phones started to degrease to allow for more battery life due to the sites were closer together and the signal not needing to travel as far.
***Note*** All Generations after this point were just developed to increase the speeds of data for the consumer and to allow them a better internet experience while on the move.
This generation was a bridge between 2G and 3G. It was basically a change made to the GSM technology moving it from GPRS to EDGE. This change increased the data speeds for customers.
Third Generation of Wireless was a major breakthrough with data speeds. With this generation speeds on devices move to as high as 3.1MB per second. It was when the development of CDMA EVDO was first introduced.
This generation was once again just a Bridge between 3G and 4G. it was the deployment of UMTS and HSPA+. Some wireless carriers advertise that HSPA+ is 4G but the ITU does not recognize this and considers it 3.5G.
Now let’s talk about the fourth generation of wireless technology. ITU states 4G is anything up to 100Mb per second. However they do state that they consider LTE to be 4G even though it doesn’t meet this requirement. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and was a major breakthrough in data speeds. We are now seeing speeds up to approximately 22Mb per second or more. However, to support these speeds many things had to change as far as infrastructure for the carrier. You know have to have more band width to a cell site than ever imagined needing. This puts a big burden on carriers to support. If you think about it. If you have let’s say 10 customers on a site all wanting to do 22Mb per second, the carrier has to have 220MB of bandwidth just to that one site.
Due to this increase in bandwidth at both the cell site and at the switching locations, there has been a very limited deployment, to date, of this technology. The deployment will increase but as you can imagine it starts in the major cities and moves out as customer demand increases. Smaller communities may not see LTE deployed in their area for some time.
I must also mention there is one other form of 4G wireless technology that ITU recognizes and that is WiMax. WiMax has far superior data speeds for the consumer but there are major drawbacks for carriers such as the foot print the cell site covers from one location. They are very limited in coverage and thus require many more sites. Also very few of the major Wireless Carriers have opt to use this technology so roaming options are very limited.
There are two issues with 4G/LTE technology that the consumers should be aware of:
1) As wireless carriers are not held to any standard as far as advertising. Some carriers are actually still 3G or 3.5G with speeds but still advertise they are 4G. Some actually considered 3.5G to be 4G and thus confuse the consumer with their advertising. I have even seen carriers stating they are 4G but still sell the same phones and devices as when they were 3G.
2) Since all wireless carriers will now be using the same technology. It benefits the consumer by letting a phone work with different carriers but it also means that the smaller carriers that survive on roaming revenue can see that loss of revenue due to less roaming partners a carrier needs. That may force some of the smaller carriers out of business and that in itself is not good for consumers when it comes to competition.
In closing, as 4G and LTE still new to the consumer and the wireless industry, a lot of issues that may evolve have not all yet been discovered. Let’s just hope that this technology actually turns out to be as great as all the hype is over it in the world. Also let’s hope that since the speeds are so great and the costs to support those speeds are great to the carrier, that we don’t see data plan costs go up. We already see a lot of the carriers starting to implement limits and either charging you for going over or slowing you back down to 2G speeds when you reach your limit.