In the past 18-24 months, we’ve seen an increase in the level of marketing for the various 3G networks available from wireless carriers, and even more confusing, we’re also starting to see 4G being advertised. If you feel lost, don’t worry – you’re not old or out of touch, you’re just about at the same level as everyone else. Unfortunately, to make it worse, there are different definitions of 3G and 4G depending on who you ask, and it can even lead to some pretty heated and lively debates.
So, what’s the story? My friends at Engadget have actually done a really nice job of researching and bringing the facts together in an easy to understand format. It’s a bit if a read, but you should be able to get through it in 10-15 minutes with a much deeper understanding of what you’re facing as you pick out a new cellphone (and potentially a new carrier).
For those of you too lazy to click through and read it, here’s the skinny:
Sprint launched 4G first, using WiMax (same thing that Clearwire uses). T-Mobile came second with HSPA+ for their 4G, though technically, it’s little more than super-fast 3G. Verizon launched LTE, which, like WiMax, is at least closer to being officially ‘4G’ than HSPA+ is. AT&T started out by calling T-Mobile out on their labelling of HSPA+ as ‘4G’, but then revealed that they’re going to follow suit, at least until later this year, when AT&T plans to launch an LTE network of their own. Essentially, all four major carriers in the U.S. are using something different for 4G, but calling it 4G anyways. The best way to compare is to look at their advertised upload/download speeds, similar to how you would compare home Internet services.
4G pretty much only relates to Internet speeds on your phone. It’s faster than 3G, so if you’re into (or interested in) video calling, watching HD video content on your phone, and that sort of thing, it’s definitely worth looking into. If you’re just emailing, Facebooking, and watching YouTube, then you probably wouldn’t notice a difference anyways – might be better to go ahead and get a new 3G phone now and give the carriers and manufacturers 2 years to step up their 4G game in terms of available hardware and network coverage.