Is Your Business Really Getting 4G?

October 23rd, 2014

4G, short for fourth generation wireless, is the best and most modern of the current wireless technologies. It’s significantly faster and more stable than the older 3G broadband mobile communications, but not everyone plays by the same rules when advertising their services as being 4G. This is in part due to wireless carriers trying to maximise their investments in older technologies, like CDMA and LTE, to name a few (more on these and other terms below), but there are other reasons as well. In fact, the truth is that not all carriers who claim to have 4G really do. Actually, none do to any real effective degree.

This can be a significant hit to a business or personal subscriber expecting to have access to 4G speeds, but not receiving them. To start with, 3G and older services are much less expensive than the latest 4G tech. This means you can be paying far more for your service than you need to, and not getting what you’re paying for. It’s a bit like paying for a prime cut flat iron steak, and getting home to find out they gave you fish and chips. Despite the fact that 4G is changing how businesses operate everywhere, not every business is getting the service they’re being sold as 4G. Read on to learn why this is, and how the networks operate, so you can understand why it’s an issue that won’t realistically go away any time soon.

4G is defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as operating at 100Mbps. That means your mobile device should have some pretty blazing fast speeds. Of course, right about now many of you are scratching your heads, because you’ve never received speeds anywhere near that on a mobile phone or tablet. Here’s why…

3G networks creep along at about 3.84Mbps, meaning that a true 4G network is about 26 times faster than the best 3G network out there. In practice though, 3G is usually much slower, making true 4G that much better. Since cell phone companies, especially those trying to market their services to businesses or other data conscious consumers, want to upsell their services as being better, they advertise networks with 4G capabilities. You’ll see and hear terms that are impressive, such as speeds being up to five times faster than 3G, except, five times faster than 3G is still more than five times slower than 4G.

Consumers don’t see this though. They just sit back in amazement when their antiquated 3G speeds gets blown away by marginally better data transfer protocols, like OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing). This leaves older carrier technologies around the world (for those business users who travel often), such as TDMA (time division multiple access), or CDMA (code division multiple access), getting slowed down by dated networks that rely on older tech. Then, when they get home, they breathe a sigh of relief as they get those fast but fake 4G speeds again, never realizing that true 4G is considerably faster than anything they have probably ever used. The thing is, real 4G speeds don’t exist in to any usable degree anywhere in the world.

If your business is paying for 4G, you’re getting cheated, while cellular data carriers are arguing over whether they’re going to build out WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) or LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks to support the ‘eventual’ expansion of true 4G networks. It’s not just a passive argument either, as carriers across the board agree that the OFDM protocol is very much the way forward, but they draw lines in the sand and bicker about how to implement it. Meanwhile, you’re still paying for it – you just aren’t probably getting it, now or any time soon.

You see, in a true 4G world, there would be no disconnects, and no loss of data due to being dropped when you switched from one cell tower to the next. This is because, in addition to super fast speeds, 4G will also support what is known as pervasive computing. In layman’s terms, that means whatever you are doing won’t be interrupted, ever. This will be made possible by true 4G speeds, multiple data channels from OFDM, and the ability of the systems to seamlessly transfer data or call interactions from one part of the network to another. Obviously that doesn’t exist today. In fact, it’s not something any carrier in the world offers yet.

What this means to a business user is that unless you’re getting that 100Mbps speed on your mobile, you really aren’t getting 4G speeds, no matter what your carrier is telling or selling you. Of course, an improvement of five times existing 3G speeds is nothing to sniff at, but it’s a far cry from true 4G speeds. So, if you’re paying for 4G, you might want to test whether you’re really getting what you paid for.

It’s also a bit surprising that the regulatory bodies haven’t made any issues about it – but then the people at the top in those agencies probably aren’t as aware of the underlying tech anymore than most business owners. They just get a pretty 4G notification, with faster download speeds, and forget all about the fact that they paid for steak and got fish and chips.