Almost every high-profile smart phone to be unveiled at CES this week boasts a super-fast "4G" network connection. But depending on the carrier, "4G" can mean many different things. Here's the breakdown.
Essentially there are three types of networks the carriers are currently calling 4G: HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access Plus), LTE (Long Term Evolution) and Wi-Max. And each carrier uses a different one (or a combination of two or more). You're probably already familiar with the GSM/CDMA divide, with Verizon and Sprint on CDMA and AT&T and T-Mobile on GSM. The difference between the 4G networks works in a similar same way.
Verizon: As you've probably seen via their recent marketing blitz, Verizon's moving fast with their next-generation LTE network, which is actually based on GSM technology (an interesting change, because Verizon's 3G network is CDMA/EV-DO). The network is largely deployed already (Verizon's current count is 38 major cities and 60 airports). LTE's capacity is huge: Verizon boasts download speeds of 5-12 Mbps, which is on par with a standard home broadband connection. Another benefit of LTE is that it's an entirely different network than VZW's CDMA 3G, which means the chances of overcrowding are lower.
AT&T: AT&T is also rolling out LTE, but not yet: today they dropped a cagey "mid-2011" date for an initial LTE rollout (in a limited selection of cities, to be sure). They hope to be done with their LTE rollout "by the end of 2013." In the meantime, AT&T is calling their enhanced HSPA+ network "4G." HSPA+ is at its core the same protocol used by their current 3G network, just with added capacity. HSPA+ is the slowest of the three main 4G options. Today's AT&T phone announcements are the first hardware devices to take advantage of the HSPA+ network, and AT&T is still fairly cagey about their 4G coverage map. Basically, AT&T is playing catch-up.
T-Mobile: T-Mo is further along with their HSPA+ than AT&T, currently claiming "over 100 major metropolitan areas" with coverage. So while their enhanced 3G network is fairly beefy and you can use it today on a variety of phones and laptop cards, they currently have no solid LTE or Wi-Max plans for the United States.
Sprint: Sprint is the only major player that stuck with Wi-Max, another GSM-based protocol that was an early contender for a 4G wireless broadband standard. Generally speaking it's faster than HSPA+ but not as fast as LTE. Sprint has had 4G hardware available for several months to take advantage of this network, including the HTC Evo 4G smartphone and a variety of modems and dongles.
Phew! As you can see, the 4G landscape is pretty crazy. Another interesting thing to consider: moving from 3G to 4G connectivity is more of a hassle when the two networks' protocols are different. If you drop out of a 4G zone on Sprint, for instance, your device has to switch to a different type of radio band to re-connect to the CDMA/EV-DO 3G network. On T-Mobile's (and presumably AT&T's) HSPA+ networks, this is less of an issue.
See the rest of PopSci's live CES 2011 coverage here
I like the service offered by Clear. I don't have them personally but know of others that use it and they say the speed is generally pretty good, at least in the Chicago area.
Everyones trying to out-do everyone else and no one is winning because 4-G is only now working, when it should of already been up and running. A dollar says Japan has had 4-G for years.
$.02 says Japan is a fraction of the size of North America snd far more densely packed.
I hate the fact the International Telecommunications Union loosened their definition of "4G" to include the current technology which before the change didn't come CLOSE to the standard as far as speed is concerned. I saw the "false advertisement" lawsuits coming in down the pike. I can't wait to see the commercials between AT&T and Verizon in the next few months. Bragging who has the fastest, biggest, shiniest network. I think as a consumer I'm frankly turned off by all these claims stretching the truth. Just give me reliability. Coverage and reliability trumps speed in ALL instances. I'm sure most would agree with me.
Above it's stated, "AT&T is still fairly cagey about their 4G coverage map. Basically, AT&T is playing catch-up."
In November AT&T's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) confirmed that 80% their network had already been upgraded to HSPA+ with the other 20% scheduled to be completed by the close of 2010.
What's "cagey" about that? As of January 1st, AT&T's "4G Coverage Map" is EXACTLY the same as their "3G" one - which means if you have a HSPA+ compatible device you'll enjoy the same blazing speeds everywhere AT&T has service.
By comparison, Verizon's 4G coverage extends to less than 5% of their national footprint. So let's see a side-by-side comparison of Verizon's 4G network map versus AT&T's.
4G is just marketing almost lies right now. Towers are being built, phones are being sold, but the network is not up yet. All we are seeing is marketing ploys for 4G when we are really using updated 3G tech. 4G network in the U.S. has been sidelined by the FCC because of band width concerns being too close to gov't and military frequencies. It will be two or three years until we truly use 4G network. Europe and other parts of the world do use 4G.