July 21, 2015

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

How fast is 4G

Network technologies can be confusing, with various different generations in use at once and even a number of different 4G technologies and terms in use and it’s not helped by the fact that they all have similar names made up of letters and numbers.

The difference between 4G and 4G LTE is one such area of confusion, because despite sometimes being used interchangeably there are some differences.

What is 4G?

4G is the fourth generation of mobile data technology, but in practice it can mean a number of different things. It tends to be used as a blanket term for all mobile data technologies that exceed typical 3G speeds, though more recently LTE-A / 4G+ / 4.5G have started being used to highlight technologies which are faster than those we call 4G.

The reality is though, that based on the original 4G standards set out by the ITU-R (aka the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector), most things that we call 4G aren’t actually fast enough to accurately be described as such, since the standards require peak download speeds of at least 100Mbps.

In fact we’re only consistently starting to reach those speeds with the likes of LTE-A (aka LTE-Advanced), despite that sometimes being marketed as 4.5G or 4G+.

So technically LTE-A is 4G and most things labelled 4G use a similar technology but are more pre-4G, existing in a middle ground that’s faster than 3G but not true 4G.

What is 4G LTE?

LTE stands for long term evolution, so 4G LTE stands for fourth generation long term evolution. LTE and 4G LTE are often used interchangeably, but essentially it’s a mobile technology with typical download speeds of 5-12Mbps.

LTE doesn’t generally come close to 100Mbps then, but it can theoretically reach those speeds, so it’s allowed to be called 4G LTE. But it really is a long term evolution, in that it’s working towards those speeds rather than achieving them now.

Most networks which claim to be 4G use 4G LTE. If a network is using anything faster than that, like EE is with LTE-A in some areas, it will highlight that fact, as while no networks want to admit to labelling sub-4G speeds as 4G they certainly do want people to know when they’re offering superior technology and faster speeds.

The reality is though that LTE-A and other advanced technologies are really still ‘only’ 4G, in fact they’re more true 4G than LTE / 4G LTE, despite that typically being what’s referred to as 4G. It’s only with the upgrade to 5G, expected to start around 2020, that we’ll truly move beyond 4G technology.