What is 4G Technology?

Anna B. Smith

4G technology is the fourth generation of wireless technology available from mobile service providers. This technology, also sometimes called "ultra mobile broadband," is designed to provide greater data transfer rates and more secure connections. Various wireless devices can take advantage of 4G technology, including phones and tablets. There is some controversy over the use of "4G," however, since some early adopters did not meet the requirements of the technological standard.

Newer cellphones can work with 4G technology.
Newer cellphones can work with 4G technology.

Purpose of 4G

Ultra mobile broadband refers to faster rates of data transmission available on a wireless network. 4G technology may provide data transmission rates between 100 megabits per second (Mbps) and one gigabit per second (Gbps). By comparison, 3G or third-generation networks offer data transmission speeds averaging around 200 kilobits per second (kbps), which is significantly slower than those that 4G technology makes possible.

4G technology allows for faster data transfer between cell towers.
4G technology allows for faster data transfer between cell towers.

Network connections on 4G may also be more accurate during travel when user and tower locations are at a constant rate of change. For example, when a user is traveling in a car and data signals transfer between towers, which 4G handles more effectively than previous technologies. This faster, more accurate connection can enable the transmission of larger packets of data than 3G networks. Users can access increasingly information-heavy applications, such as High Definition (HD) television signals and real time video chat.

Many modern smartphones include Wifi, 3G and 4G technology.
Many modern smartphones include Wifi, 3G and 4G technology.

Devices Using 4G

4G wireless service may utilize modems, mobile phones, and other devices like laptop computers. Mobile hotspots offer wireless connections for multiple devices, including computers, tablets, and handheld gaming systems; with 4G technology, users may be able to simultaneously download and use large applications on each device. A 4G "netbook" or tablet device could operate similarly to a laptop, but with smaller memory and fewer drives, offering instant Internet access and real-time web communications.

Cell towers recieve and transmit signals than include information such as dialed phone numbers.
Cell towers recieve and transmit signals than include information such as dialed phone numbers.

Controversy Over the Standard

Developers have established certain standards for the high performance capabilities of 4G technology, in accordance with those dictated by the International Telecommunications Union-Radio communications sector (ITU-R). While companies in the early 21st Century had not yet achieved the standards necessary for 4G technology, some began using "4G" to describe their networks. This was initially frowned upon, but ultimately allowed as long as the technology used would likely pave the way for true 4G performance. New systems like mobile WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) were referred to as "4G," though they did not reach the performance benchmarks indicated by the ITU-R standards.

Videos may be streamed and downloaded quickly with a 4G connection.
Videos may be streamed and downloaded quickly with a 4G connection.

Developing Wireless Technologies

The first generation of wireless technology available, 1G, refers to the analog signal used by cellular towers in the 1980s. 2G technology in the 1990s upgraded the analog signal to digital and let people send text messages across the network. 3G technology, in the early 2000s, made use of electromagnetic wavelengths to broadcast a wireless broadband signal, which let users access the Internet and download applications using handheld mobile devices. 4G technology further upgrades these networks with faster information transfer times, heightened security, and greater information exchange abilities.

It's common for tablets to utilize 4G mobile technology.
It's common for tablets to utilize 4G mobile technology.

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Discussion Comments


While there is much hype about the new and improved roll out of 4g wireless technology I think that some will need to take heed at the claiming the end of home-based internet connectivity.

The new connection speeds that wireless carriers are advertising to consumers are far from fully tested or even acceptable as truthful statements. Sprint's 4g technology, also called WiMax has seen some incredibly promising tests and has even rolled out in certain markets with people using the service as we speak.

The initial reports about this technology cite issues with location and signal strength. If you are located in a major metropolitan area then most likely you will not have any issues and get close to if not better then the advertised data speeds. If you are a citizens of a more modestly sized city area like most American's are then you may not see the same type of speeds that the network touts as it's advantage over others.


@youbiKan is correct in suggesting that home-based internet service companies will now see fierce competition in major markets from 4g mobile technology providers.

Because the data speeds and connection reliability have started to come inline with home-based cable and DSL providers people will start to migrate to a wireless solution as to take advantage of the mobility that it offers.

Much like the mass exodus away from land-line based telephones to mobile phones, consumers recognize that having an internet connection at home as well as on their mobile device or laptop computer is both costly and redundant. If we are capable of using our wireless devices for data connectivity both on the go and at home with similar performance then the transition is inevitable.


My favorite part about the new 4G network technologies that are rolling out across the United States is the incredible data speed increases that will result for the end consumer's devices.

This new benefit of the upgraded mobile technology means the difference between having a sub-standard internet speed connection and a blazing fast connection similar to the high-speed services that we see in our homes.

This upgrade to our wireless connection speeds on new 4g networks means that companies that specialize in home internet service will now face serious competition from wireless providers.


The major difference between 3g and 4g technologies is essentially a performance based contrast. As the ability for wireless networks to cover more and more areas the true race toward providing the best service has moved from having the largest network to having the fastest network.

This new competition between wireless carriers for speed as opposed to coverage means that consumers will benefit from this natural economic competition. Since 4g technology is a generic term we must be conscious of specifications and policies when choosing our next carrier and their service.


@fitness234 is right when talking about the importance of the electromagnetic spectrum availability that wireless carriers have to maintain their signals.

Public auctions are held by the Federal Communications Commission at different times that allow these wireless technology providers to purchase use of the specific frequencies.

Different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum will yield varying speed and bandwidth performance for our wireless devices. As 4G technology rolls out we will have to be keen as consumers to analyze what kind of performance and reliability of signal these different carriers are making available for service purchase.


The most amazing part that people seem to miss when it comes to talking about the progression of generations in the wireless technology market, is the fact that the use of highly specific parts of the electromagnetic spectrum make the industry possible.

Just as the author states in the article, there was a progression of technology from analog to digital signals that happened fairly early on in the development and launch of wireless markets. Perhaps the biggest change in spectrum use came in as the third generation and now fourth generations are rolling out.

These spectrums are actually purchased by the wireless network companies for exclusive rights to broadcast and receive signals at very specific frequencies. There is only so much room on the electromagnetic spectrum and with the use of wireless devices ever increasing this means that our newer technology must cram more data into the same amount of airspace.

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