back to article WTF is... 4G

The great thing about standards, as some wit once said, is that there are so many to choose from. Mobile phones are afflicted worse than most technology – a multiplicity of standards, nested within one another like a messy set of Russian dolls filled with alphabet soup. LTE Advance Logo The 'generations' of mobile networks …


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  1. Tom 35 Silver badge


  2. bigc90210
    Thumb Up

    Silly question but...

    Good article, interesting read.

    can current handsets (such as the iphone 4, as i have one) be able to use the LTE frequency when it becomes live in order to gain faster connectivity, or would this require a new technology within the handset to access this (ie... the iphone 4's successor)


  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    So, after all that

    It might be a bit faster than 3G

    Provided you have enough data credit to make the extra speed worthwhile

    Provided your telco isn't traffic-shaping/speed limiting

    Provided whatever you're (eventually) connected to can send data fast enough

    Provided your signal is strong enough

    Provided there's no interference with the signal

    Provided few, or no, other people are trying to use the same mobile tower

    Provided your phone has enough grunt to handle that many packets/second

    .. or then again, it might not.

  4. Robert Hill
    Thumb Up


    Great article, great summary of the current state of the mobile world.

    1. Ilgaz

      Did you hear about Nokia web server?

      I remember Nokia shipped Web server for symbian doing some real cool and usable things along with excellent battery performance and security.

      What happened? They eventually had to give up the project because it had Nokia name in it and people at some countries got massively ripped off for using the data connection. I heard (thanks to Apache) it was eventually taken by another company.

      That is how operators make their billions of dollars a waste since 3G, 4G is only used to browse facebook on a speed that you actually wait for mobile CPU to render that stupid jpeg.

    2. chr0m4t1c

      New hardware required

      You'll need new kit in the same way that you can't use a two year old Freeview box to receive FreeviewHD broadcasts.

      Do you expect to still be using your iPhone4 in 3-4 years time anyway?

      Most likely Apple will be on something like iOS7 on iPhone7 by then and most of the world will be on Android 6 (a.k.a. Honey Monster or Phish Food, I forget which) and thanks to fold-able screen technology top-end smart phones will also be tablets.

      El Reg comment sections to be filled with the same comments as netbook vs tablets from last year, but saying stuff to the effect of not wanting a phone that can fold out to a tablet because they'd just buy a tablet if they wanted one and a few weirdos saying they just want a phone to make phone calls so everyone should have a Nokia 6210 and carry a laptop if they want to work on the move.

      That's all moot of course, since the world ends in October this year. Or next year when the neutrinos mutate.

      1. jake Silver badge


        "and a few weirdos saying they just want a phone to make phone calls"

        What's weird with only wanting a telephone to make telephone calls? Isn't that the primary purpose of a telephone?

        "so everyone should have a Nokia 6210"

        Mine's a 5185 ... Can your so-called "smart phone" be used to carry on a conversation from Calistoga (Napa County, California), down Hwy 29, up the Oakville Grade, down Trinity, and using Cavedale Road to connect to Hwy 12, and finally into Sonoma, CA? My old Nokia can. My telephone works as a telephone, and I'm the weirdo?

        "and carry a laptop if they want to work on the move."

        What's wrong with carrying a laptop for business on the move?

        Besides, I have never, in my entire life, seen anyone, anywhere, do anything that I would consider useful computer work on CrackBerries, iFads, (I'm a)ManDroids, or any other so-called "smart phone". From my perspective, they are all "look at me" time wasters, not useful business devices. In fact, they remind me of what we used to call "hydras" in the 1990s ... printer/fax/scanner/copier abominations. Cut off one head, and the entire body dies, leaving the hulk useless.

        I'm an old UNIX[tm] hack ... small tools that each do one thing well are a good thing, at least in my mind. If you mileage varies, carry on carrying on ...

    3. Peter H. Coffin

      iPhone LTE

      The simple answer is that there are no LTE iPhones available from any provider. Apple does not make them. No Apple phone has LTE radio kit inside. There is no announcement of support for LTE on iPhones, and only some speculation in the press that it may be coming sometime in 2012. The "4G" in the iPhone branding is the same G as the iPod 5.5G, and has precisely nothing to do with LTE. Are we clear on this yet? Okay then.

      1. bigc90210

        RE: Iphone LTE

        I was never under any illusion from the start that just just because the iphone4 had the number 4 in it, that it didn't necessarily mean that it was a "4G" LTE capable handset. It was just a question in regards to its capabilities, so no need to act like a dick. Are you clear on that? Okay then.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As long as the server will provide data fast enough


      This is the bane of my existence right now. My boss seems to think that since we have a 80Mbit pipe that he should be able to download from $RANDOM_WEBSITE at 80Mbit/sec

      He can't of course and is on my back to fix it.

  5. There's a bee in my bot net

    Its all in the customers interest...

    >4G in the UK


    >Ofcom will be auctioning the LTE spectrum – 800MHz and 2.6GHz – next year, later than >originally anticipated. The reason for the delay: UK operators were keen to see how much they >can squeeze out of 3G networks before deciding how much to spend on 4G spectrum.

    You mean operators wanted to squeeze as much cash out of their customers by providing them with less and less 3.5G data until they stop using their data connections?

    >But punters – expecting better performance from 4G phones and seeing how many, more >advanced handsets are appearing in other parts of the world – will demand 4G handsets >here. Competition-sensitive carriers will eventually supply that demand.

    Yeah, tell me about it. Galaxy Epic (The S with a hardware keyboard) was only available in the states. I've given up on the idea of the Atrix as the data package sucks (750MB a month?!? Really? I can get through that in a week on email alone).

    >But not until 2015, some analysts believe, at which point the operators hope to have reached >the limits of 3G technology - especially now Ofcom has allowed the use of 2G spectrum for >3G applications - and for 4G equipment to be rather cheaper than it is now.

    They won't reach the limits of 3g if they keep cutting their data tariffs. Expect 5 year contracts with 120MB a month by 2015...

  6. Anton Ivanov
    Thumb Down

    Wrong description all of those

    The radio, bandwidth, technology are not _KEY_ parts to the 3G/4G difference. The key differentiators are:

    1. Resource allocation

    Up to 3G standards still maintain fixed bandwidth logical channels over radio at Layer 2.

    4G is packet, not logical channel. No fixed bandwidth anywhere in the access layer/Layer 2. The bandwidth is fixed at IP level elsewhere.

    2. Services

    Up to 3G services and voice are integrated with radio layer and Layer 2.

    4G does not have any such integration. All services are just IP including Voice being VOIP under the billing, qos and admission control of IMS.

    3. Security

    Up to 3G most network standards the security is in radio access layer only.

    In 4G security for a lot of stuff is End to End so snooping at the fixed network backhaul level does not help you.

    What is the bandwidth, radio, etc is all of very little importance. It is the other bits which matter.

  7. DrXym Silver badge


    These faster speeds mean people will be to wipe out their daily limits in a matter of minutes.

    1. Gil Grissum

      Daily Limits

      And if you are on AT&T's network, those limits will come up pretty fast.

  8. Ilgaz

    Operator suit brains needs to get upgraded

    If one day, a single operator figures the fact that they actually carry data, make money over it and somehow manages to make revenue from its services, advertising the actual shape of things like basic ping response, security and availability...

    These guys are so backwards that they try to use very expensive deep packet inspection just to create problems for apps like whatsapp so people will still get ripped using their sms networks.

    When some operator advertises 4G speeds, just check their caps and gigabytes per dollar. It always works and you will easily get unimpressed.

    Pirates are pain in the ass, I agree and people should pay for the art if producers make it that way. Thing is, you can't really use 3.5 G (not 4G) without a question in mind, legitimately. I don't talk about browsing stupid facebook pages with 7 mbps speeds, like watching NASA TV on the road can create a question in your mind or you end up swapping sims every airport, getting into networks which you absolutely have no clue about.

    1. Goat Jam

      Gigabytes per dollar?

      Shirley you mean dollars per gigabyte?

  9. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Efficiency only goes so far

    So 4G is really about more efficient use of the spectrum. Sensible.

    Ofcom is giving away a bit more spectrum. Handy.

    Mobile internet usage is rocketing with increasing use of streaming, something that doesn't lend itself to efficiency savings and needs a lot of bandwidth. Oh dear.

    No matter how you slice it there's only so much bandwidth the 'airwaves' can carry and that's before you even get into the discussion of distance from mast, interference and signal blocking. Wireless will only ever be a poor man's alternative to wired. It's nice for when you're mobile but otherwise plug that computer into a physical network for real work.

  10. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Great Writing:

    "...a multiplicity of standards, nested within one another like a messy set of Russian dolls filled with alphabet soup."

    Better than a Graph!

    Comment on the LTE logo, it looks like the letter t is barfing. Probably over the L33t use of the numeral 4 to spell 4dvanced.

    Comment on WI-Max, a proper compliment to Wi-Fi, they will eventually be merged by a really smart carrier. Using Licensed spectrum for backhaul gets the whole mesh up to carrier grade. AFAIK AT&T seems to get this already. Sprint already has a Wi-Max network thanks to CLEAR, but not integrated down to Wi-Fi hotspots.

    Once Handsets are native VOIP the delivery and pricing models flatten out for the carriers.

  11. Mage Silver badge


    In 5MHz the LTE delivers barely more than 3G/HSPA+

    "it maxes out at a trifling 100Mb/s down and 50Mb/s upstream. If anything, it's 3.9G."

    Actually that is if signal is perfect, no-one else is using the mast and you have a 20MHz channel.

    Real world Average throughput is very very much less. Maybe 4Mbps to 12Mbps. As the folk on Cell edge only get 600kbps. Divide by number of simultaneous users.

    So 3Mbps DSL that's actually 3Mbps can beat 100Mbps LTE.

    HSPA & LTE are close to Shannon Boundary. So the only way to get more speed, i.e. 1GBps peak, is 200MHz channel.

    Your loaded user speed could easily be 10Mbps on a 1GBps peak mast as it's a shared resource.

    How many people can get 250MBps on 250Mbps WiFi at same time? Actually in a typical setup with 10 users you might get 10Mbps. Or 1Mbps if everyone tries to watch a different YouTube channel.

    Lies, Dammed Lies, Statistics

    And then Mobile vendor speeds.

  12. Peter H. Coffin

    For what it's worth...

    I've got one of the LTE Thunderbolts, and Verizon has been thrashing out LTE in the city center not far from here, so I've actually had the opportunity to do some real-world playing. Well, almost real-world: the LTE network is clearly not serving a big load of customers yet since LTE phones are in limited availability and very expensive (about twice the cost of non-LTE phones with otherwise similar feature sets), but also is in what amounts to "beta testing" since the beginning of the year, with a real light-up scheduled for next month. Typical indoor performance with the thing being used as a wi-fi modem has been getting about 2-3 Mbs upload and 8-10 Mbs download. That's nowhere near the potential maximum to be sure, but it bears noting that this is STILL faster than most DSL or cable-modem performances available, and pretty much within 70% of the top end of internet service available to consumers at any reasonable price. That is, top-end l33t g4m3r cable-modem speeds in the same area typically get about 1.5 up and about 12 down, and for approximately twice as much money as I'm being charged for my mobile plan.

    1. Colin_L
      Thumb Up

      more FWIW

      Peter, I agree with your post entirely. The article in purely technical terms is solid. However it's light on the 'what does this really mean to me' angle.

      I am a US TMo customer with a '4G' HSPA+ handset (HTC/TMo G2). I am also in a market receiving the 42mbit light-up today. Prior to today with full strength -- bars, I don't routinely look at signal dB-- I would consistently get 3 to 4.5 mbit which is faster than the real-life speed of any 3G format in my city.

      The speeds I ultimately see will no doubt be below the official 4G specification, but I think you were trying to say, So What?

      If it's equitable to wire speed, we're really on to something. Now about those terribly low data caps that make it difficult to do a whole lot with this speed.. Hrrmm.

  13. Anna Logg

    A few thoughts

    I thought the ITU moved the goalposts a few months back so that R8 LTE was now officially 4G?


    "What is the bandwidth, radio, etc is all of very little importance. It is the other bits which matter."

    I disagree; for sure there is more to increasing end to end data throughput than the air interface, but optimising the rest of the network would be pretty pointless if more advanced technology wasn't being used over the airwaves to achieve higher raw data rates.

    In terms of approaching the Shannon limit then LTE should give close to twice the raw bits/Hz efficiency of HSPA+; but MIMO is needed to push data rates higher - and that increases complexity and design challenges further.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    The quote in the opening paragraph's Tanenbaum...

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