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June 21, 2023updated 17 Jul 2023 2:15pm

What is 4G?

Even if 5G is now the norm, 4G marked a big change for mobile technology

By Tech Monitor Staff

With the advent of 5G, it is important to still shine a light on the massive revolution that fourth-generation wireless, also called 4G, brought about in the telecommunications field. It allowed technological evolutions such as IoT growth (the increased amount of smartphones) and remote workforces.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) set the 4G wireless cellular standard, which made the speed stats and characteristics of this generation of wireless technology the global standard.

Telecommunications web upon a city, symbolising 4G and 5G connectivity
4G mostly works through antennas and cell towers / Image: Shutterstock

Many things have changed since 1G was first introduced in 1983, but what made 4G so special?

What is 4G?

4G is the fourth generation of mobile networks, following on from 3G, 2G and the first 1G, and preceding today’s latest broadband 5G.

Throughout its evolution and development, wireless cellular technology has gradually increased both bandwidth speed and network capacity. For instance, while 3G’s maximum speed was 13 Mbps, 4G resulted in a minimum of 100 Mbps, which is significantly more efficient.

While 2G and 3G introduced drastic changes such as, respectively, making digital phone calls and sending texts and browsing webpages, participating in video calls and downloading music, 4G did not have any new features. Rather, it focused more on the speed and efficiency of the network connection.

How does 4G work?

Like the other mobile networks before it, 4G works thanks to an antenna connection which works through radio frequencies. In particular, Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology is behind both the transmission and receiving capabilities of 4G, alongside Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM), which are unique to 4G as they ensure a quicker reaction timeframe.

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In addition, while 3G only uses internet protocol (IP) for data, 4G uses it for both phone calls and data, which ultimately makes it more efficient and easier to optimise and manage in the long run.

Specifically, 4G is three times faster than 3G, however, its efficiency depended also on the activity area. Similarly to 5G today, 4G would switch back to its predecessor if the broadband power is not strong enough.

What is the difference between 4G, 4G LTE and 5G?

The fourth-generation wireless has been, throughout the 2010s, the most innovative and fast generation of cellular technology ever released. During its reign, 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) was also developed, which was also the first global standard for wireless broadband and the official predecessor of 5G. While 6G is already being talked about, 5G is still the standard for most providers.

5G, on the other hand, is the fifth and latest generation of cellular network technology. 5G has some major differences compared to its predecessors, such as new features like network slicing, OFDM and an improved MIMO. One of 5G’s main objectives is to replace LTE with its new standard, 5G New Radio (NR), built upon LTE’s increased energy savings and greater connectivity.

Another difference between 5G and 4G is that the former can detect a new high-frequency called the millimetre wave (mmWave), which allows a speed of between 30 GHz and 300 GHz, compared to LTE’s 6 GHz.

While 4G worked through the connection between cell towers and antennas, 5G only uses small cell technology, which can be transmitted from multiple locations more easily. However, for its lower frequencies, 5G still relies on cell towers.

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