4G stands for “Fourth Generation”, and it refers to the latest in mobile phone communications technology. You’ll probably have already heard of 3G – quite possibly because you see the 3G icon in the top corner of your smartphone screen on a daily basis. 3G technology is what has enabled broadband internet on mobile phones, allowing us to surf the web, check emails and watch videos in the palms of our hands. 4G is the latest advancement in mobile broadband technology, and promises a number of significant benefits.
4G technology has been in the works for a few years, and now it seems finally ready to emerge on a global scale. It is being steadily implemented all over the world – as of late 2012, mobile phone users in North America and some European countries are already benefitting the from 4G-ready networks, and other developed countries are quickly following suit.
There isn’t in fact one singular technological advancement that represents this “Fourth Generation”, but rather, several. The various systems and transmission protocols have been developed at different rates, and each cellular network provider will offer one particular system. Whatever the network, their 4G service should offer measurable advantages over their previous 3G system.
Why is 4G Better? What are the Benefits?
The central advantage of 4G technology is the faster data transmission rates. Hailed as “ultra-broadband”, peak 4G speeds are expected to be up to ten times greater than 3G, enabling much higher transfer rates. This will have a number of consequences for users of mobile phones, tablets and other wireless devices. Data-heavy activities such as streaming video or music will load faster, with less stalling or buffer time. 4G will enable higher resolution video and higher quality audio to be consumed within acceptable load times.
4G also has massive implications for digital social interactions. The increased bandwidth should make video-calling from phones and tablets much more viable for people on the move, without the need to be within range of a WiFi internet source. This possibility for casual, on-the-move video calling is expected to make a big impact on how people in society connect over long distances.
For business, 4G speeds are predicted to translate into significant gains in communications efficiency, and create more options for employees to work remotely and make extensive use of cloud computing services on their phones, tablets and laptops.
The exact improvements experienced by any one user will depend on a couple of factors. As mentioned above, 4G isn’t one distinct entity – the term really refers to the latest current collection of various mobile broadband technologies. Each service provider offering 4G will definitely be offering service significantly faster than their previous 3G, but exactly how fast your phone or tablet will now run, will depend on your particular network.
In order to use 4G, users will need to be in an area that receives 4G coverage from their network. The United States already receives fairly wide coverage from some networks – Verizon leads the way, claiming coverage of 75% of the population of the United States.
Other developed countries are not far behind – Australia’s leading Telstra network are predicting 66% coverage by mid-2013, and the UK is aiming for full coverage by 2017.
In general, major metropolitan cities in the USA and Europe will see the arrival of 4G services within the year, if it isn’t already present. Smaller towns, rural areas, and developing countries may well have longer to wait.
What are the Implications for the Consumer?
To access 4G speeds and services, consumers will generally need to upgrade to a 4G-enabled device. This is because 4G systems transmit data on specific frequencies that will differ from those used with 3G. New devices such as the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Note II are already 4G-enabled and ready to connect, out of the box. We can expect many new smartphones and tablets to be released with 4G-readiness, as it quickly becomes the new global standard for mobile data transmission.
It’s an exciting time for smartphone and tablet users. 4G technology will inevitably enhance our ability to connect, socially and professionally. It will almost certainly create an opportunity for development of new services and mobile functions – the widespread presence of ultra-broadband on our phones and tablets will open the door to a whole new generation of applications that are only viable with high data-transfer rates. We can expect 4G technology to be the catalyst for a lot of exciting innovation on our mobile devices.
If you're interested in learning more about 4G, then check out our article on LTE.