4G networks: Know the basics before jumping on the bandwagon

Shawn Morton plans to jump on the 4G bandwagon when Sprint releases the HTC EVO 4G Android-powered handset. Let us know whether you're ready to make the leap to 4G.

One of the ways mobile carriers attempt to differentiate their offerings is by touting their network's speed. AT&T advertises its America's fastest 3G network in an attempt to refute Verizon's claims of having better 3G coverage. Now Sprint is promoting its 4G network.

So what does this mean for smartphone users? And just how much faster is 4G? Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know about 4G.

4G basics

4G networks will be the first mobile networks to be completely IP-based and use OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) which is more efficient than previous methods, including TDMA and CDMA.

There are two flavors of 4G that carriers are using:

Regardless of the flavor, 4G provides speeds up to 100 times faster than current 3G networks.

4G specifications

Specifications have been established for networks that call themselves 4G and include:

  • End-to-end IP, packet-switched network
  • Data rate of at least 100 Mbit/s
  • Connectivity and roaming across multiple networks
  • Support for next-generation multimedia, including streaming HD video and multiplayer gaming
  • Interoperability with existing wireless networks

4G carriers and devices

Sprint is the only carrier in the United States that has rolled out its 4G network. While it is being marketed as 4G, it does not meet the 100 Mbit/s specification; it is currently running at 10 Mbit/s.

The is a list of 4G markets in the United States:

  • Abilene, TX
  • Amarillo, TX
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Austin, TX
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Bellingham, WA
  • Boise, ID
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Chicago, IL
  • Corpus Christ, TX
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX
  • Greensboro, NC
  • Honolulu, HI
  • Houston, TX
  • Killeen/Temple, TX
  • Kitsap, WA
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Lubbock, TX
  • Maui, HI
  • Midland/Odessa, TX
  • Milledgeville, GA
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Portland, OR
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Salem, OR
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Seattle, WA
  • Snohomish, WA
  • Tacoma, WA
  • Waco, TX
  • Wichita Falls, TX

Sprint has announced that the following cities "will have 4G service in the near future."

  • Boston, MA
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Denver, CO
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Miami, FL
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • New York, NY
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Washington, DC

The first 4G device announced for the U.S. market is Sprint's EVO 4G. It was unveiled at last month's CTIA Wireless event in Las Vegas. Made by HTC, the EVO 4G will be one of the most advanced smartphones available.

Specifications for the EVO 4G include:

  • Android 2.1 operating system
  • 3G/4G compatible
  • HTC Sense UI
  • 4.3-inch screen
  • Dual cameras including an 8 megapixel primary and 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Mobile hotspot capability to connect up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices
  • 1 GHz Snapdragon processor
  • HDMI connection
  • Wi-Fi capable
  • HD video camera
  • Stereo Bluetooth
  • microSD slot that supports up to 32 GB cards
  • 1,500 mAh battery

The HTC EVO 4G will be available for Sprint customers in the summer of 2010 in the United States. Neither the exact release date nor pricing have been announced.

The bottom line about 4G

As obvious (and cliche) as it sounds, 4G is the future of mobile. It provides enough network speed to deliver HD video streaming, multiplayer gaming, and video conferencing. I will be jumping on the 4G bandwagon as soon as Sprint releases the HTC EVO 4G this summer. I will follow up with a TechRepublic column about what I think of the device.

Are you ready to make the leap to 4G, or are you perfectly content with your current 3G network? Let us know in the discussion.

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Having first hand experience with Clear's (sprint) WiMAX devices in the Chicago area. I can honestly say that it's not nearly ready for prime time. The usb cards frequently have problems transitioning between towers in the Downtown Chicago area. On the edges of their coverage area the service is even more troublesome. If they can grow the 4G coverage significantly in the next 2 years. The service would be a fantastic option for home and mobile usage. Pricing makes it very tempting compared to hardwired service providers in my area. Coverage is just spotty everywhere in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. I had a coworker who got no service. When he tried to cancel in the first 24 hours. They tried to talk him into putting the hardware and contract up for sale on craigslist instead of just canceling.


I will jump to 4G as soon as my carrier has a phone that is worth making the jump. I will not leap to Sprint just to pick up faux-4G speed.


Who is defining "3G" "4G"??? For instance, in networking we have IEEE 802.11 WLAN standards, based on a group known as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or IEEE. Telephone technology is "governed" by the FCC, how active is the FCC in defining the 4G standard? And this is ridiculous..."Sprint is the only carrier in the United States that has rolled out its 4G network. While it is being marketed as 4G, it does not meet the 100 Mbit/s specification;" If it does not meet 4G Specs, how can it be marketed as 4g???


I switched to ClearWire 4G in Portland, Oregon from Comcast because Comcast was raising its fees. On ClearWire I get a WiMax modem for my home network and a mobile 4G adapter for the same price Comcast was charging for fixed cable. When this deal is over I will probably switch to Sprint's version because I can add a smartphone and a 3G fallback if I go out of the WiMax area. WiMax is slower than cable, but I seldom notice it because I've found that it isn't the internet connection that controls speed as much as the distant server. All anybody talks about is ISP speed, but it sure seems to me that the limiting is done at the other end. Another 4G advantage is the portable wi-fi boxes like ClearSpot and the equivalent from Sprint. You can create a hotspot anywhere you are for about $130. You can set up a meeting anywhere in your 4G service area, or 3G for that matter.


Your article stated that right now Sprint download speeds will be at 10 mb. Will that ever increase to the max true 4G speed of 100 mb? Or is the whole "4G" claim nothing but smoke and mirrors to entice customers to go with Sprint instead of waiting for true 4G with Verizon later this year or next?


I'm not positive, but I think Sprint is adding a new Android Smartphone with 3G and 4G. I can't think of switching yet because I have a 2-year agreement with Clear or I would have checked this out.


FCC has nothing to do with it. LTE Advanced standardized by the 3GPP and 802.16m standardized by the IEEE.


I see this values repeated over and over as a "paradise" promise for end-user.I think that's one misunderstanding: 100mb DL_speed is the Base_Station total capacity - what operator have available for end-users -, not the DL_speed of one particular user. Most probably you'll get 2mb at one affordable price. Even so, I won't trade my home optical fiber connection(100mb guaranteed) for 2mb on radio(best-effort, at best!) I have very few applis for mobile usage. As about 10mb DL_speed for Spring it's accordingly with the standard(TDD, 5MHz BW). In WiMax2 standard these speeds grows up to 100Mb

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

Because the technology is coming to sprint and they are seemingly rolling it out before Verizon, I would guess that the speed will be turned up as they add markets and begin adding customers. when the 4G phone comes out (which I plan to get) and more phones follow suit the networks will likely be ramped up to give the 100Mbit experience though it will likely not be everywhere all at once.


Are you talking about the EVO 4G? Also, I would like to mention Sprint and Verizon are not capable of doing voice and data at the same time. 4G will allow voice and data at the same time but right now the coverage is not very good so you will be using the limited 3G most of the time.


The current Sprint 4G network is built on WiMax, while other carriers plan to use LTE. Sprint is first out of the gate, but risks being overtaken when competitors roll out 4G with faster technologies. Bottom line is you won't get 100Mbit this go-around.

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