5G networks are finally here. But for most smartphone owners around the world, 4G remains the preferred standard of networking. Or is it LTE, 4G-LTE, or LTE-Advanced? Debating the merits of this naming system may sound pedantic, but there are actually some significant discrepancies between the meanings of the words. Suffice to say, 4G networks started out a bit messy and today there is a lot of discrepancy between them.
Read What is 4G? | What is LTE Advanced?
If you’re confused by terms like HSPA+, WiMax, TD-LTE other than the more familiar 4G logo, and what they mean for your network speed and quality, we’re here to help. Let’s dig into 4G vs LTE, how they differ, and where the confusion lies.
The problem with setting standards with 4G vs. LTE
Although the International Telecommunications Union-Radio (ITU-R) decided on specifications for 4G in 2008, it took a long time for carriers to build a network capable of meeting the official definition. Moving from 3G to 4G was a big deal for carriers, and instead of making a one-time leap, it would require a series of network upgrades to achieve.
The problem with creating a wireless standard is twofold. First, the standards are not strictly enforceable, as the ITU-R has no control over carrier implementation. Second, the change from the old standard to the new standard does not happen overnight. There is a long period where initial networks may not necessarily match what consumers expect (as we are seeing with 5G as well). This is where LTE, which stands for Long Term Growth, comes in. Instead of a technical standard like 4G, think of it as the means by which carriers match the official 4G specification.
Although all 4G LTE markets have now passed this initial rollout stage, some of these network types are still found in countries or regions with less developed infrastructure. Even in areas with poor reasonable 4G coverage, they often still fall back. If this all sounds a bit confusing, check out the graphic below to see the widest range of technologies out there.
After much deliberation, LTE-Advanced and WirelessMan-Advanced (WiMAX Release 2) were renamed as IMT-Advanced compliant technologies and the era of true 4G began. However, HSPA+, WiMAX and other LTE branded technologies were also labeled as 4G, despite not offering the full feature set promised by the “official” technologies. This was because many carriers and hardware manufacturers had already started investing in these networks during the two and a half years of deliberations.
The state of 5G: hype versus reality two years later
“True 4G” Standard
As strange as it sounds, 4G LTE doesn’t actually meet the full specifications envisaged for the 4G standard. That said, these networks are faster than 3G, so it’s not entirely wrong. However HSPA+ is much closer to 3G than 4G in terms of technology, and therefore does not use the 4G icon nowadays.
LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) and Wireless MAX-Advanced are networking technologies that actually meet “true 4G” specifications, although LTE-Advanced is the naming scheme you’ll actually see in consumer markets. To differentiate them from previous 4G technologies, the ITU has defined them as “True 4G”, but you will rarely see the term used.
LTE-A introduced some significant technical improvements, helping carriers reach the speeds they initially proposed for 4G. This includes improved Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) antennas to support carrier aggregation and it to use more bandwidth at once, and to improve cell edge coverage. However, this also required new smartphone modems and radio technologies, so early 4G handsets could not take advantage.
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Since then the 4G LTE standard has gone through several revisions or releases as 3GPP calls them. These introduce support for new aggregation bands and other technologies to increase data speeds without breaking an entirely new standard. The latest revisions come under the LTE-A Pro moniker, promising even faster speeds. LTE is really living up to its name as a long-term growth plan. Today’s consumer 4G LTE-A networks can hit speeds in excess of 1Gbps, exceeding initial specification and making them faster than some early 5G deployments.
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WiMAX Relay 2:
WiMAX Relay 1:
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However, speaking of speed is confusing, as specifications often do not define what users of the network will actually receive. For example, even with LTE-A customers are more likely to be able to use speeds of 100 Mbps on mobile devices with strong connections, while speeds of 1 Gbit/s are defined for low mobility wireless access points. She goes.
It’s also important to note that LTE-A isn’t just about handset download speeds. There is also a major push to improve infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of users, devices, and types of coverage needed to offer faster downloads. LTE-A uses a mix of traditional macro cells and much better small cells. It aims to provide better high-speed coverage at the edge of the network and more bandwidth in congested areas. This idea is also the foundation of the latest 5G networks.
A look at the 4G vs LTE market in 2021
The past several years have seen a much wider rollout of LTE-A, and carrier aggregated networks are now common around the world. Faster 4G LTE Speeds Are Finally Here, Time for the Industry to Start Switching to 5G.
according to recent GSA report in 4G LTE and 5G networks Published in December 2020, 742 operators provide fully mobile LTE services and 357 carriers have LTE-advanced networks operating around the world. 210 operators are also increasingly investing in LTE-Advanced Pro technologies. a March 2021 Subscriber Overview It was highlighted that LTE now accounts for 62.2% of global mobile subscriptions and 507 million subscriptions were added in the 12 months leading up to the report.
Although much of the industry’s attention is focused on next-generation 5G networks, 4G LTE remains the backbone of the world’s wireless networks and is still seeing its fair share of major improvements.
TL of the 4G vs LTE story; The DR is that LTE and LTE-A are both variants of 4G, but it is the latter that has the potential to match the original specification and provide the fastest data speeds. Fortunately, most 4G mobile networks are now using LTE-A and even more advanced technologies, allowing them to offer faster speeds all the way back in 2008.