Is 4G really 4G?

February 2, 2011 at 2:51 pm 3 comments

You may have heard some television commercials talking about 4G cellular networks recently.  But just what is 4G?  4G actually stands for 4th Generation.  You may have also heard of 1G, 2G, or the recent 3G (you can guess what those stand for).  Here is a breakdown of these different generations of cellular networks.

  • 1G – This generation encompasses the analog (voice only) devices that were introduced in the eighties.
  • 2G – Introduced in the nineties and characterized by the use of digital transmission (voice and limited data) and the introduction of advanced and fast phone to network signalling.  Also, text messaging was introduced first in 2G networks.
  • 3G – Allowed network operators to give their users a larger range of more advanced services.  3G networks let you speed through Web pages, enjoy streaming music video, watch on-demand video programming, download and play 3D games, and have videoconferences.
  • 4G – Will provide a wide variety of new services including HD video, high quality voice and high-data-rate wireless channels. 4G technology will not only be used for cellular telephone systems, but will also include several types of wireless broadband access communication systems.

America's Largest 4G Network by T-Mobil

Last fall, T-mobile came out with an advertising campaign claiming that they had “America’s largest 4G network”.  This raised a lot of stir among other competitors.  Sprint Nextel was working on rolling out a 4G network using a technology called WiMax, and Verizon Wireless was building a 4G network using a different technology called LTE (Long Term Evolution).  The question being raised is, are these networks really 4G?  The answer is NO according to the technical definition released by the International Telecommunications Union.  The International Telecommunications Union, an agency in the United Nations, is an international standards body that officially designates wireless technologies as 1G, 2G, 3G, and now, 4G.

With this in mind, I ran a speed test (using the app) on my friend’s AT&T iphone (which is still on 3G) and got an average download speed of .59mbps  and an average upload speed of .80 mbps.  The ITU states that the average data rate for a 3G network is from between 385 Kbps – 2 Mbps.  The .59mbps (or 604.16 kbps) download speed falls right in this range for 3G.

However, the data rate for 4G is leaps and bounds above 3G: 20 – 100 Mbps.   Another friend who has a phone on the supposed 4G t-mobil network pulls a 9Mbps download speed, which is somewhere beyond the 3G spectrum, but not quite what they define as 4G.  We will call this 3.5G.

It is evident that what the industry is calling 4G right now, is really a 3.5G, or a 3.0 LTE/WiMax network.  It will be a while before we see any actual 4G action.

To run your own speed test, simply download the free app on your iphone, or other smartphone, or go to to run a test.  Feel free to leave comments below about your results.  Then go to blackboard to take your quiz.

A good deal of this information was taken from the article “Will the real 4G please stand up?” on CNet.

Thanks for reading the article!  ~Megan


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jordan Lewis  |  February 2, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    hi megan! i really enjoyed your article so i decided to do the speed test for you to give you some more feedback! on the AT&T iphone i performed the speed test. my results were as follows: download-5.73 Mbps and upload-2.30 Mpbs.

    i hope my results give you some more feedback for your blog! good luck with everything!

    Jordan Lewis

    • 2. mekopka  |  February 3, 2011 at 8:18 am

      hi Jordan, I’m not sure why your AT&T iphone speed was so far above my friends. Do you know if your phone was using 3G or 4G? Also, you might want to try doing several speed tests. I did about 4 and then averaged all the numbers. But thanks for the feedback!

  • 3. developertechno  |  February 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    4G Cellular Systems. As of 2004, UMTS/WCDMA and cdma2000 3G services have been rolled out in a number of countries and continue to gain some ground among business professionals. It is widely agreed that 3G will replace 2G and 2.5G systems in the next several years, providing a seemingly high throughput of several megabits per second for a mobile station. While this data rate seems sufficiently large for popular applications such as text messaging and web browsing on a cell phone, it cannot meet the relentless demand of emerging applications such as fullmotion video broadcasting and videoconferencing.


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