Everything You Need to Know About 4G

Carriers are responsible for much of the confusion around 4G

There are many myths about 4G. Some are true and others are false. This article attempts to clear up some of the confusion.

Myth 1: The iPhone 4S supports 4G

Reality: That depends on your definition of 4G. Most experts say iPhone is still a 3G phone — even though a 4G icon appears when you’re connected to the AT&T’s HSPA+ network. HSPA+ speeds are faster than 3G, but not near as fast as those found on a good 4G LTE network. One thing is sure: The iPhone 4S does not yet support 4G LTE.

Several studies have shown AT&T to have the fastest data speeds

Myth 2: AT&T has the fastest data speeds

Reality: Studies show that AT&T’s data speeds vary wildly depending on the time of day. Sometimes they’re good, but often they’re mediocre. Download speeds are especially problematic when the network gets more congested in the afternoon.

Speeds like these are not unusual over LTE

Myth 3: LTE is 5 to 10 times faster than 3G

Reality: LTE users sometimes report speeds that are 30 times faster than average 3G speeds. I ran more than fifty Speed Test runs and saw average download speed of 17Mbps, and an average upload speed of 9Mbps. My peak speeds are 45Mbps down and 28Mbps up. Pretty amazing.

Myth 4: 4G costs more than 3G

Reality: Most 4G data plans cost exactly the same as 3G data plans. Most Verizon customers pay $30 a month for 4GB of data. 4G phones don’t cost any more than 3G-only phones. You can buy a great phone that supports LTE for as little as $49.

Myth 5: LTE is new and not supported by many devices yet

Reality: 4G LTE launched back in 2009, and has been available in the U.S. since December of 2010. More than fifty different mobile devices now support LTE. Learn more about the history of 4G LTE here.

Myth 6: AT&T and Verizon have similar 4G coverage

Reality: Verizon has LTE support in more than 250 cities, while AT&T is in less than 40 cities. Sprint and T-Mobile do not currently offer 4G LTE service. See the coverage map above for more details. To access the newest coverage maps, download Sensorly or the Cell Phone Coverage Map app by Root Metrics in Google Play or the App Store.

Don’t expect to get a 4G signal everywhere you are

Myth 7: Most carriers have good LTE coverage in large cities

Reality: Even if your carrier has 4G coverage in your city, don't expect to get LTE everywhere you go. I only see 4G light up about 30% of the time.

It’s hard to use more than 2 or 3GB of data

Myth 8: HSPA+ results in higher speeds when LTE is not available.

Reality: This depends. In theory having HSPA+ to fall back should result in higher speeds, but according to experts, network congestion makes the drop-off from LTE on AT&T’s network to be just about as steep as Verizon’s.

Myth 9: Using a 4G phone will cause you to exceed your data allowance

Reality: In most cases this is untrue. Sure you’ll be able to download data much more quickly, but unless you stream a lot of HD movies, you’re going to have a hard time exceeding the 4GB data limit that carriers like Verizon are currently offering. Even if you do crazy things like backing up your entire phone to Drop Box with Titanium Backup, it’s hard to go over your limit.

Myth 10: Verizon’s network often feels faster than AT&T’s — even though its data rate is slower

Reality: This is true. According to a CNN article: “Verizon also has by far the quickest network response time, meaning that Web pages begin loading faster than on any other network after a user clicks on a link. Verizon’s network starts churning in half the time it takes AT&T’s to respond, and often about a third of the time it takes Sprint’s network.”

Myth 11: 4G can quickly drain your battery

Reality: This is true. That's why 4G phones like the Droid Razr MAXX include much more powerful batteries. If your 4G phone does not have an extended life battery, upgrade it, buy a second battery, or turn off 4G when you’re in an area without 4G coverage.

Some 4G phones have better battery life than 3G phones

Myth 12: Verizon users cannot talk and access the Internet at the same time

Reality: This is no longer true. You can use any app to access the Internet after you make a call (e.g. Google Maps, web browser, etc.)

VoLTE allows you to talk over 4G

Myth 13: 4G can improve the quality of voice calls

Reality: This is true. Several carriers outside of the U.S. are preparing to launch VoLTE, which along with HD voice codecs, can have dramatic difference on the quality of your voice calls. Verizon is rumored to be launching a voice over LTE service early in 2013.

Myth 14: HSPA+ is not capable of LTE-like speeds

Reality: In most cases this is true. HSPA+ is capable of real world download speeds of 4Mbps and higher. Some have even seen HSPA+ speeds as high as 16Mbps when stationary, but these drop way down when you are walking or in a moving car. More info.

Myth 15: The next big thing after 4G will be 5G

Reality: Not true. Carriers plan to increase their data rates beyond current LTE limits by using two 20 MHz channels and/or MIMO antenna arrays. Sprint says this will allow their network to reach speeds of up to 168Mbps.

As long as you own a device which supports LTE, you’ll enjoy getting data speeds on your phone which are faster than those that you get over home DSL.

– Rick

Copyright 2012 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

The Confusion Around Mobile Data Speeds

AT&T's marketing chart correctly places HSPA+ in-between 3G HSPA and LTE when it comes to data speeds.

The History of Faux G

Data speeds can have a huge impact on the perceived speed of your mobile device, but there is much confusion around 4G. For the past year all of the carriers have been running commercials about their 4G networks. Truth be told, until recently, Sprint and Verizon were the only U.S. carriers with true 4G networks and mobile devices to support it.

  • T-Mobile was first to call their HSPA+ network 4G and AT&T gave T-Moble grief over it. HSPA stands for “High Speed Packet Access.” Since then AT&T jumped on the same HSPA+ 4G bandwagon. HSPA+ is capable of speeds that are somewhere in-between 3G and 4G LTE. This is why some call it “Faux G.”
  • Sprint uses a different technology called WiMAX and was the first to deploy a true 4G network. Their network is capable of speeds that meet or exceed Verizon’s 4G data network. [Update: Sprint just announced they will be coming out with LTE phones in the 2nd half of 2012.]
  • Verizon launched their 4G LTE network back in December of 2010.
  • AT&T launched LTE in five cities in September 2011 (9 months after Verizon), but didn’t have a single 4G phone until November 2011.

If you’re fortunate to be in one of the 200+ cities with LTE coverage, you’re in for a real treat. LTE is much faster than 3G or HSPA+. How much faster? Verizon claims LTE speeds which are at least twice as fast as AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ and up to 12 times faster than their own 3G speeds. Most LTE users experience real world download speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps and real world upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps. These speeds are impressive, but they are conservative. I’ve experienced real world LTE download speeds as high as 45Mbps and upload speeds as high as 28Mbps. Theoretical peak LTE speeds are even higher than these. More info.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is on of the few phones with LTE and Dual-Band Wi-Fi support.

The list of smartphones which support LTE today include the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, BlackBerry Torch 9810, Droid Bionic, Droid Charge, Droid RAZR, HTC Rezound, HTC Thunderbolt, HTC Vivid, LG Revolution, Pantech Breakout, Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE, Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and Samsung Stratosphere. More phones are being added to this list every month. The list of tablets which support LTE today include the Motorola Xoom, Motorola Droid XYBOARD(8.2″ and 10.1″), Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Why isn’t the iPhone 4S listed here? Unfortunately, LTE support isn’t yet available on the iPhone or iPad yet.

Trouble in Paradise?

There are two downsides with LTE that you should be aware of:

  1. LTE phones consume power faster than non-LTE phones. For this reason, in the past some people disable 4G when they weren’t using it. Fortunately most newer phones have more powerful batteries which make this less of an issue.
  2. LTE isn’t available everywhere, and even if you live in a city that has it, you may not always be able to get a 4G signal.

Wi-Fi data speeds are important as well. The best mobile devices support dual-band Wi-Fi. That means they work on both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi networks. 5.0 GHz networks are less crowded and capable of higher speeds. You can learn more about 5 GHz and view a list of devices which support it here. Some new mobile devices also include support for Bluetooth 4.0, which promises better range and lower energy consumption.

After reading this, you should be better prepared to evaluate the carriers confusing marketing messages about mobile data speeds. If data speeds are important to you, it’s essential all of your mobile devices support either LTE or WiMAX.

My next post will be about Rhapsody’s new cloud-based music service. You can read about that here.

Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

The Ultimate Mobile Device (Updated Feb.)

Since this article was first written, an updated version has been posted here. Check it out. A lot has changed.

Although there are lots of great mobile devices available today, there is no one single device that is best at everything. It is possible to say which phone (or tablet) has the best display, processor and so on. After reading this article, you should be better prepared to purchase the ultimate mobile device based on your needs.

Best Mobile Display

Since the screen is the main interface to your mobile device, it’s very important. Although the size and total number of pixels matters, it’s the pixel density which determines the amount of detail you’ll see. More info.

The Galaxy Note is the the only smartphone with a 5.3" display

  • First place: The HTC Rezound has a 4.3” screen with 1280×720 pixels and a higher pixel density than the iPhone 4S (342 ppi vs. 326 ppi). The Windows Phone Lumia 900 is the most readable under bright light. More info.
  • Runner-up: The Samsung Galaxy Note has the largest screen you’ll find on a smartphone today. It’s an amazing 5.3” and has a record setting 1280×800 pixels. The reason it doesn’t come in first is because its pixel density is lower than the HTC Rezound. When it comes to tablets, the Samsung Galaxy series have some of the best displays available today, and pixel densities which are almost 30% higher than the iPad 2.
  • What to look for: A tablet with a 2560×1600 pixel screen will be available in 2012. Smartphones will get screens with pixel densities near 400 ppi as well. Also expect to see displays with polarized filters, that make screens more visible in direct sunlight.

Best Mobile Processor

The processor in your mobile device determines how fast your apps will run. Today’s best mobile devices have multi-core processors, which allow your device to do several things at once without slowing down. More info.

The Asus Transformer Prime was the first quad-core powered mobile device

  • First place: The ASUS Transformer Prime has an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor which out performs every mobile device on the market today in most benchmarks.
  • Runner-up: The HTC Rezound, LG Nitro HD and Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket all have 1.5GHz dual-core processors. The HTC Jetstream tablet also has a 1.5GHz dual-core processor.
  • What to look for: Quite a few quad-core smartphones will be announced in Q1. Dual-core CPUs in smartphones will hit speeds of 1.8 GHz in 2012. Tablet processors will hit speeds of 2GHz in 2012, and could go as high as 2.5GHz.

Fastest Data Speeds

4G LTE devices are at least 5-10x faster than 3G devices

Data speeds have a significant impact on the perceived speed of your mobile device. Verizon claims 4G LTE speeds that are at least twice as fast as AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ phones and up to 12 times faster than 3G speeds. More info.

  • First place: LTE phones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S II HD LTE win because they work on LTE networks and support both 2.5GHz and 5.0GHz Wi-Fi.
  • Runner-up: The HTC Rezound, Motorola Droid RAZR, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, HTC  Jetstream and all other mobile devices which support LTE or WiMAX.
  • What to look for: Expect Apple’s iPhone to finally get LTE support in 2012.

Best Camera

Today’s best mobile devices have 8 megapixel rear cameras which are capable of taking surprisingly good-looking photos. Most have LED flashes and front-facing cameras for video conferencing.

The HTC Titan II will be the first phone with a 16MP camera

  • First place: Too close to call. The 12MP Nokia N8 wins on specs with its Carl Zeiss optics and a xenon flash, but it’s on a Symbian phone which is more than a year old. When it comes to smartphones with 8MP cameras, the iPhone 4S, HTC Amaze, HTC Sensation, HTC Titan, Samsung Galaxy S II and T-Mobile MyTouch Slide all take photos which rival some point-and-shoot cameras. The Samsung Galaxy 10.1V tablet comes in first because of its 8MP camera. Unfortunately, this model is only available in Europe.
  • Runner-up: The Samsung Galaxy Nexus has a stellar light sensor and almost no shutter lag when taking photos in rapid succession. The BlackBerry PlayBook and HTC Flyer also deserve recognition because they have 3-MP front-facing cameras.
  • What to look for: The HTC Titan II will be released in March with the first 16-megapixel camera! Fujitsu is also releasing a 13.1MP camera capable of ISO 25,600. Expect to see a camera with a xenon flash and optical zoom later this year as well. Future tablets will also be capable of 1440p video playback.

Most Internal Storage

The Archos 70 has 250GB of storage

Today most mobile devices have only 16 or 32 MB of internal storage. Unfortunately that is not enough storage for a large media library.

  • First place: The Archos 70 tablet has an internal 250GB hard drive.
  • Runner-up:  The Apple iPhone 4S, Nokia N8 and Nokia N9 are all available with 64GB of internal storage.
  • What to look for:  Expect to see more tablets which have lightning-fast solid-state drives like the Asus Eee Slate.

Most Powerful Battery

Today’s fastest mobile devices require more power than ever. Especially those with high processor speeds and power-hungry LTE radios. That’s why we’re seeing mobile devices with more powerful batteries.

The HTC Jetstream has a 7300 mAh battery

  • First place: The HTC Jetstream has a 7300 mAh battery, which is the most powerful battery available in a stock mobile device today.
  • Runner-up:  Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (7000 mAh). The Droid RAZR Maxx has the most powerful battery in a smartphone today. At 3300mAh, this phone has a talk time of 21.5 hours and a standby time of approx. 15.8 days.
  • What to look for in the near future:  Expect to see even more powerful batteries in mobile devices, and the ability to add a second battery to some tablets.

Thinnest Case

Today’s best mobile devices are incredibly thin and light.

The Droid Razr is the World's Thinnest LTE Smartphone

  • First place: The 6.68mm Huawei Ascend P1S is technically now the world’s thinnest smartphone. It’s effectively tied with the Fujitsu Arrows F-07D which comes in at 6.7mm. Too bad neither phone is available in the U.S. and both don’t support LTE. The 7.1mm Motorola Droid RAZR is the thinnest LTE smartphone. The 7.0mm OGT Eros is supposed to be the world’s thinnest tablet but it has yet to be released.
  • Runner-up:  The 8.3 mm ASUS Transformer Prime is the thinnest tablet available in the U.S today.
  • What to look for in future cases:  Expect to see more mobile devices which can be submerged in water. Fujitsu’s new quad-core phone can be submerged 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes.

The Final Word

It’s a given that technology will always get better over time, but we’ve seen unprecedented improvements in mobile devices over the past year. Today’s best smartphones blow away some of those which were released earlier. If you’re eligible for an upgrade, you should consider some of the devices covered in this article. As you can see, there isn’t a single mobile device that is best at everything. You should pick your next smartphone or tablet based on the things which matter most to you.

Update: Since this article was last updated, a chart listing the best smartphones was published here.

Copyright 2011-2012 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.