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What is a 4G Network?

Jason C. Chavis
Jason C. Chavis

A 4G network is the fourth generation of wireless, mobile communication. The overall goal for the network is to provide a comprehensive and secure network communication solution with much faster data speeds than previous generations. While still in development, the foundations for upgrading from 3G to 4G service started in the early 21st Century as companies began to introduce new technology. New standards such as WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) have been referred to as 4G, though there is some debate regarding their status.

4G Specifications

A phone using a 4G network.
A phone using a 4G network.

The specifics of the 4G network are geared toward high-quality service and fast data transfer rates. Priorities for this standard include better reception, with less dropped data, and faster information exchanges. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the organization that oversees standards for wireless networks, has stated that substantial improvements to multimedia messaging services, including video services, are required to approve a new generation.

A tablet using 4G mobile technology.
A tablet using 4G mobile technology.

4G requires a data speed transfer rate of at least 100 megabits per second while a user moves at high speeds, such as being on a train, and a one gigabit per second data rate in a fixed position. The ITU also requires fast transfers between networks without service interruption or loss of signal. Phones on a 4G network also need to use Internet Protocol (IP) technology for data transfers through packets, rather than traditional phone methods.

Progress Toward 4G

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

A variety of working groups have been established to help develop the 4G network. Early developments toward this technology include WiMax, which is a faster version of wireless data transfer than WiFi® networks. LTE is another technology that improves upon older 3G systems, but neither standard quite fulfills the ITU requirements for data rates.

Both of them have been labeled as 4G networks, however, which has led to some confusion and controversy. As both methods utilize IP packets, and have shown a marked improvement over 3G standards, the ITU has approved their labeling as 4G. This is contingent upon the developers of WiMax and LTE pushing forward to meet the official standards for 4G, which they have continued to do.

Upgrading From 3G to 4G

Overall implementation of the 3G network around the world took nearly a decade. The ITU plans to have the 4G network rolled out to the global market in a much more effective and timely manner. Enhancements made between 2G and 3G required substantial improvements in hardware for mobile devices, while companies developed many smart phones used on 3G networks for compatibility with new 4G standards. However, concerns over stability and security have slowed down some development, as service providers want to ensure they protect their customers' information.

Early Networks Prior To 4G

The first wireless network, known as 1G, was founded during the 1980s. 2G was introduced in the early 1990s to allow more transmissions to occur per communication channel. The foundations of 3G were established in the late 1990s and were implemented throughout the majority of the world in the early 21st century. While the 3G network was the first to allow for multimedia applications, the 4G network promises to take this basic technology and amplify it significantly.

Discussion Comments


Can an Edge phone work on the 3G network?


A friend of my upgraded his wifi in his laptop. Come to realize there's no 4G in the state of Connecticut till probably the end of the year. Talking about false advertising from Verizon. What a joke.


i am a sprint customer and i have the shift evo 4g and it is running off the 4g IP address as provided through sprint. it will allow me to switch from 3g to 4g and the sprint network will obtain the IP address from smart antenna signals. i do see a difference in uploading on the internet on 4g which is a lot faster.


is metro PCS a real 4g Network?


is digicel really running a 4G network?


People are getting the 4G phones, (4 Gigabytes of transferring data) confused with the 4G Network (4th Generation). For instance, Iphones, Blackberries, and Google phones are made so when the 4G network comes out, your 3G/3GS phone will work. This is where phone companies are messing with people by saying the 4G phone is the 4G network because only people that work in that business actually know about it.


technology advancement comes with advancement in the level of insecurity. i just hope they have devised laws that seals all the possible loop holes that introduction of 4G may create.


False advertising is false advertising -- but it's not illegal; it's just the norm.


Yes I agree with all of you -AT&T


"I think the question here is whether companies that currently advertise themselves as offering 4G network services really do, or if it's just a marketing term for advanced 3G"

Well then following that logic, wouldn't 3G just be advanced marketing jargon for 1G?


4G networks, i.e LTE and LTE advanced offer data rates in the range of 100-150 Mbps (throughput). 4G networks basically make use of MIMO antenna systems and OFDM scheme. This increases the data rate (3G data rate) by a factor of 10. So if you are looking at a network that gives you fixed line like data rates, chances are you are on a 4G network.


I had my serious reservations concerning Sprint's claims of being the first 4G network. After reading this, and knowing how they operate, I would say that they are seriously misleading the consumer and bordering on false advertisement and deceptive advertising practices.


I think the question here is whether companies that currently advertise themselves as offering 4G network services really do, or if it's just a marketing term for advanced 3G.

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    • A phone using a 4G network.
      By: N-Media-Images
      A phone using a 4G network.
    • A tablet using 4G mobile technology.
      By: m.schuckart
      A tablet using 4G mobile technology.
    • Videos may be streamed and downloaded quickly with a 4G connection.
      By: Coka
      Videos may be streamed and downloaded quickly with a 4G connection.