What is 4G?

  • Faster than ADSL
  • Wireless and Wi-Fi capable
  • Long Term Evolution (LTE)

Now that Telstra has launched a 4G mobile broadband service in Australia, you can expect to hear a lot more about the next-generation mobile network in the coming months.

There has been a lot of media interest in the technology, with speculation that 4G will completely change the way we use the internet and render the National Broadband Network (NBN) unnecessary.

With all the hype, you might be wondering exactly what 4G is and whether it is anything to get excited about.

Real 4G

Right now, we mostly rely on 3G to surf the web while out and about on our smartphones and dongles. The third generation of mobile services was a real step up from 2G and brought broadband speeds to wireless communication. It revolutionised the way we used mobile phones.

So the next generation of mobile internet has to be something pretty special.

ITU, a UN agency that sets the standard for new mobile technologies, has defined 4G as delivering 100Mbps peak speeds on a mobile device.

We're not quite there yet, although some of the technology being developed looks very promising. So until there is an official 4G standard, what the marketers actually mean by 4G is significantly faster speeds than 3G. But '3 and three quarters G' just doesn't have the same ring to it.

A good example is HSPA+, which is an improved 3G technology. HSPA+ has a maximum download speed of 21Mbps. It's not quite 4G, but it's certainly faster than 3G.

Until one standard 4G technology can be agreed upon, there are a range of 'next generation' technologies available, which are speedier than your average 3G connection.

4G candidates

The best candidates for 4G are generally acknowledged to be Long Term Evolution (LTE), LTE Advanced, or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX).

LTE Advanced is the preferred 4G standard, and is capable of 100Mbps. It meets the ITU requirements for true 4G and is an enhancement of existing LTE services, which are available now in some areas of the US.

WiMAX technology is being developed in parallel to LTE and offers similar speeds – up to 128Mbps. WiMAX is like a Wi-Fi hotspot, but with up to a 50KM range.

Where can I get 4G?

In order to enjoy super-fast 4G broadband, you will need a modem capable of connecting to 4G, plus a plan with a network carrier offering 4G.

In Australia, Telstra and Optus are working on LTE technologies to offer 4G (or near 4G) services to their customers. Telstra's service has already hit the market, and you can access speeds of up to 40Mbps with a 4G dongle.

The service is currently restricted to airports, the CBDs of capital cities and selected regional areas.

WiMAX is available in Australia through Vividwireless, although the speeds are slower (typically around 3.1Mbps to 6.3Mbps, according to Vividwireless) and the coverage is restricted to certain areas of Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.

For the moment, 4G speeds that rival or exceed ADSL2+ are restricted to Bigpond customers in the CBDs of capital cities. However, as demand for mobile data continues to rise, network carriers will build more 4G base stations and extend coverage across Australia.