What is the difference between 3G, 4G and LTE?

2011 Aug 21 03:53:48pm in Smartphones by Nurdologist

HSPA LTE CDMA WiMAX…huh?

There is so much confusion on cellular network, generations of phones, type of transmissions and complicated lingos to describe all the tech behind a cellphone.  This article was begging to be written.

It really breaks down into 4 major generations of technologies.   As a reference, the 1G/2G/3G/4G simply means Generations in technology advancements.  Mostly to let the consumer know that "Hey! we’re on the next hottest generation technology!"  Almost meaningless for the most part but easier to say 4G than to say 3.9G HSPA+.

The cellular generations breakdown as follows:

  1G 2G 3G 4G
 
What is it: 1st Generation
Tech: Analog,
think AM Radio
2nd Generation Tech: Digital,
think FM Radio
3rd Generation Tech: Digital,
think FM Radio
4th Generation Tech: Digital,
think FM Radio
Who uses it: This tech is still widely used.   India, China and Africa.  Roughly 70% of the world who are using cellphones! Most of 1G countries are moving onto 2G.  United States still uses 2G as a "fall back" whenever we can’t connect 3G or 4G networks.  So indispensible!  Won’t be going away anytime soon. Majority of modern world is on 3G or some variation of.  One can get more than adequate experiences using 3G data driven mobile app.  Matter of fact, if the mobile  application was designed right.  It works just as well on 2G! Latest and greatest of cellular technology but it’s not yet widely adopted.  Can be found in large metro areas but spotty.   Easily falls back to 3G datarates.
Technologies: Voice
Pagers
Digital
Pagers
SMS Text
EDGE
EV-DO
CDMA
 
HSPA
LTE
HSPA+
LTE Advance
WiMax
How Fast is it: <10Kbit/s
 
Typical:
56Kbit/s

 

Wishful max: 236Kbit/s

Typical:
1Mbit/s

 

Wishful max:
down: 7Mbit/s up: 1.4Mbit/s

Typical:
2Mbit/s

 

Wishful max:
down: 300Mbit/s
up: 75Mbit/s

Used for: Talk
Pager
Talk
Digital Data
SMS Text
GPS
 
Talk
SMS Text
Digital Data
GPS
Talk
SMS Text
Digital Data
GPS
Really, what is it really good for?:

- talk
- paging
 

In 3rd world countries and in rural areas, this along with SMS is a "computer."

- talk
- SMS
- small data

 

This is the computer for  70% not using smartphones.   The 2G phones is everything for them: internet, computer, telephone, life saver.

- talk
- SMS
- voip
- medium data
- GPS
 

This is really 2G but bit faster.  Nothing really monumental in capability or function.

There are new technologies like HSPA and LTE but they are not at their optimum until the network is 4G capable.

- talk
- SMS
- voip
- BIG data
- GPS
 

4G is where streaming video’s, audio’s, live TV, big images, video conferencing, cloud computing etc.. all come to life.

In a lot of the cases, the speeds can be greater than your home internet connection!

Also this is where tethering one’s laptop to your phone becomes useable.  With 3G if tethering, it feels like you time traveled to the old modem 56.6Kbit/s days but when tethered to 4G?  You’re in the jetson era!

Usages: blah blah blah blah.   Voice quality actually pretty good since it’s analog but mostly used for blah blah blah… beep beep beep pager! LOL ROFL IMHO :)

Simple text emails with tiny attachments.

Talk
SMS Text
Digital Data
GPS
Talk
SMS Text
Digital Data
GPS
Screen Sizes: Typical size: 128 x 160pixels

which means roughly 14 letters across by
17 letters down.  About the size of this paragraph!  Few if any earlier 1G phones had the capability of showing images although now most do.

 

Typical size: 240x320pixels
roughly twice as many as a typical 1G but moreover it showed it in greater detail, color and clarity.   Apple’s iPhone 2G really blew away the competition and started a whole new standard with 320×480.

 

Typical size: 320x480pixels
another big step in  improvements  from 2G.   With advancement in technology, displays and better batteries made for thinner lighter and brighter displays.

 

Typical size: 720x1280pixels
this is HDTV resolution and there is a difference.   Unfortunately due to the effects of the higher resolutions most enhancements of "retina" like displays isn’t so obvious.  Most people have a hard time "seeing" or feeling the benefits but without question it is noticeable.  

The difference comes in eye strain.   In previous generation lesser resolution displays.  They have to "fuzzy" up the letters to make them look smooth but made you strain to see it.  Now with "retina" aka super hi-resolution.  You don’t strain as much so easier reading but again hard to notice.

Carriers: All carriers support 1G All carriers support 2G but may not sell 2G phones for much longer.  Support however for 2G cannot go away since there are literally millions upon millions still using 2G phones. Most carriers.  Remember that even small carriers can offer you 3G because although they don’t have their own network they  lease them out from the top carriers like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.  So wherever the top carrier’s networks are so are the small carriers.  Caveat: may only be in heavy metro areas only and not rural or outside of city limits. Mostly top carriers in order of 4G coverage:

Verizon
AT&T
Sprint
T-Mobile
 

 

 

Cellular Data Terminology:

EDGE: Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution
EV-DO: Evolution-Data
CDMA: Code Division Multiple Access
LTE: Long Term Evolution Peak download rates up to 299.6 Mbit/s and upload rates up to 75.4 Mbit/s depending on the user equipment category (with 4×4 antennas using 20 MHz of spectrum). Five different terminal classes have been defined from a voice centric class up to a high end terminal that supports the peak data rates. All terminals will be able to process 20 MHz bandwidth.
HSPA: High Speed Packet Access (HSPA)/ High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) / High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA), that extends and improves the performance of existing 3rd generation mobile telecommunication networks utilizing the WCDMA protocols. A further improved 3GPP standard, Evolved HSPA (also known as HSPA+), was released late in 2008 with subsequent worldwide adoption beginning in 2010. The newer standard allows bit-rates to reach as high as 168 Mbit/s in the downlink and 22 Mbit/s in the uplink.
WiMAX: WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a wireless communications standard designed to provide 30 to 40 megabit-per-second data rates,[1] with the 2011 update providing up to 1 Gbit/s for fixed stations. It is a part of a “fourth generation,” or 4G, of wireless-communication technology
   

In Conclusion: If you only check emails, SMS and use specific mobile applications that are not data hungry meaning heavy heavy image uploading and downloading then 3G is more than enough (around 1mbit/s).   However if all you do is Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Four Square, maps and heavily browse the web then 4G with LTE is no brainer (you need at least 2-4mbit/s else you’ll feel the pain).   Now with "cloud" computing where everything lives in the cloud.  Your phone will be using your dataplan to the max so 4G is almost a necessity if you’re planning on using the cloud.

NOTE: Even if you are on 3G and want to post pictures and such, you can without the painful waiting to finish uploading.  Either take the pictures at low resolution like 320×240 or 640×480 or take it at full resolution then resize it down.   Then difference is tremendous:

3G upload times for various Megapixel images: (256K bit/s is realistic)

Megapixels: Picture size in bits upload times
0.1 320 x 240 614,000 bits 2.4 secs
0.3 640 x 480 2,457,600 bits 9.6 secs
1.3 1280 x 1024 10,485,760 bits 41 secs
2.0 1600 x 1200 15,360,000 bits 60 secs
3.0 2048 × 1536 25,165,824 bits 98 secs

Although these times look great.  They are rather optimistic.   With cellphones with inherent latency and interference problems you typically get when using radio frequencies, you can expect to double that time for typical usage.   Nevertheless, these times can be achieved and even faster depending on your signal strength of course.

 

-Nurdologist