Let’s begin with a story that’s also an analogy for this article. It’s 1996. The first public broadcast of HDTV has arrived. The rumblings begin. “HDTV is coming! Long live the next generation. Say goodbye to your old analog boxy TVs.” Seven years later in 2003, HD (high definition) finally hits the Oscars and host Steve Martin celebrates the moment by saying hello to the “three guys at Circuit City who are watching.” It would take years later near the end of the decade until HDTV gained mainstream prominence. Sadly, Circuit City did not make it.
And yet here comes the noise again, except this time, it’s for the next generation of cellular service. 4G. LTE. WiMax. HSPA+. Blazing speeds. Uncompromised experience. It’s the future. It’s here!
Or is it?
What is REAL 4G?
Again, much like the beginning of the HDTV industry, the current 4G standard is like the 720p HDTVs released early in the lifecycle. While LTE is the 1080p Full HDTV sets that followed years later and became the standard. 4G LTE should be considered the real full 4G , while non-LTE 4G should be considered a stopgap or 3.5G or 3.75G. While carriers might be claiming about nationwide 4G coverage, they are partially telling the truth, because they’re talking about non-LTE 4G. But for the True 4G we want and need into today’s mobile society of data hungry and streaming applications, 4G LTE is still many years away from spanning across the nation.
So 3G isn’t going away?
Not anytime soon. True 4G adoption most likely won’t hit the full mainstream until 2017-18 and even then, 3G will have a long life into 2020. Carriers have invested much into building and updating 3G cell towers. 3G speeds today are more than capable of handling our mobile essentials of talk, text, email, and light internet use.
So why do I need 4G again?
Because you want fast and faster. Major carriers are aggressively expanding their 4G LTE networks, because users are demanding blazing speeds to match their lifestyles of streaming video and music, Instagram posts, and Skype video chats. Besides, 4G phones are backwards compatible to 3G networks and 4G is essentially future-proofing well into the next decade.
So what’s the biggest difference between 3G and 4G?
In a nutshell, 3G does talk, text, email, and basic mobile internet speeds. 4G does all that and handles fast internet speeds. For example, we’re streaming more data today thanks to popular apps like YouTube and Pandora, so 4G would be more suitable for the constant heavy data user. But for those who just talk and text and only need the occasional light internet use, 3G will do just fine.
So should I be getting a 4G phone or keep my 3G phone?
It really depends. Do you talk and text exclusively? Are you always near Wifi? Then a 3G phone will do. Do you live in a city with 4G LTE? Are you always on the go? Then why not upgrade and future-proof? Honestly, 4G LTE (not 4G, but 4G LTE!) is still early in the process of expanding nationwide. If you’re still in your 2-year contact with a 3G phone, it should be perfectly fine to wait.
Current 4G phones are battery hogs. And newer upgrades in a few years will have lower battery consumption, better coverage, and just be faster, especially when True 4G service hits the mainstream. So there’s no need to jump onto the bandwagon yet, because you’ll just be an early adopter. That is unless you use lots of heavy data, have 4G coverage, and need the latest and greatest. However, expect the mobile landscape to change with cloud computing and two-way data streams within a short time.
With mobile phones replacing our computers, notebooks, and even TVs expect users to demand high-speed internet on their mobile devices.
What about 5G?
5G is supposed to be much faster and more efficient than 4G LTE. However, the industry standard is still being worked on and is not expected to be released until 2020. Even then, expect a lot of debate to be whether it’s true 5G or not.