Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have been running 4G commercials for a while now. AT&T is just now starting a campaign that 4G is coming. But all 4G isn’t the same – it’s not comparing apples-to-apples – and the fallback network when 4G is not available are different, too.
So what is 4G, exactly? Simply put, 4G means the 4th generation of wireless communication and is used generically to mean anything that is faster than the current 3G technologies. So what do you choose?
There are three main types of networks purporting to be 4G, each sporting different, theoretical data speeds. LTE is the fastest, with data rates of 100Mbps. That’s very fast – it’s the same high data transmission rate you get with a hardwired CAT5 Ethernet cable at home or work. The WiMAX variant (also calling itself 4G) yields 40Mbps and HSPA+ (not really 4G at all, but some carriers pretend) is slightly over 20Mbps. Verizon Wireless is the only carrier right now with an LTE network. Sprint and Clearwire use the WiMAX technology for their 4G offering, while T-Mobile uses the HSPA+ technology. AT&T, who plans on rolling out its 4G network mid-2011, will be providing both LTE and HSPA+.
While the theoretical rates are nice, in practice most consumers are seeing 5-10Mbps, with some of Verizon’s customers experiencing speeds as high as 12-20Mbps. While speeds are all find and good, what devices are out there for the different carriers and their versions of 4G? There are a lot of new phones being introduced but not all of them are 4G capable.
Here’s a rundown of some of the new 4G-capable phones:
- The new Samsung Galaxy S II is a phone you can get for T-Mobile. It runs Android 2.2 with a 1GHz dual-core Exynos processor with two Coretex-A9 cores. The phone is slated to run HSPA+, for use just on T-Mobile’s network. The phone will also have a 5MP camera and includes a 4.27” Super AMOLED screen.
- The HTC Thunderbolt is in Verizon stores now. It has a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and runs Android 2.2 with HTC’s Sense system. It runs on Verizon’s LTE network with their EvDO (3G) as a back-up if you are out of range of LTE. The Thunderbolt includes an 8MP camera and 4.3” WVGA screen, as well as a pre-installed 32GB microSD card for storage.
The Motorola Atrix 4G is expected to be AT&T’s first 4G capable phone and originally announced a March 6 release date, but that may be pushed back. The Atrix 4G has a 1GHz Tegra 2 processor with 5MP Camera and 4” color TFT screen. It will run on HSPA+ with GSM (AT&T’s 3G) as a backup network.
In April, you can expect more 4G phones from Verizon, including the LG Revolution and the long awaited Motorola Droid Bionic, which boasts an 8MP camera, 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2, and runs on Verizon’s LTE network with EvDO (3G) as its backup.
If your wireless contract is at renewal and you are still on the fence about which phone to get, don’t rush into anything. Wait a bit to see what options there are. The iPhone 4 (AT&T & Verizon) is still only 3G and the iPhone 5, if released this June, is not expected to include 4G capabilities. All the smartphone manufacturers are in a race to get out newer, slick 4G phones that run on the faster networks by carriers, so it’s best to watch as they come out, check reviews, and go to the stores and look, touch and feel the offerings to determine which is best for your needs. It’s a 2-year commitment when you get a new phone, so it’s in your interest to make the wisest decision, and not an impulse buy you’ll regret. Definitely check out these phones I mentioned if you’re looking for a 4G smartphone.
Also, if you travel, remember that a 4G smartphone is only as good as its network. Sprint has 4G (HSPA+) in 61 markets already, T-Mobile has 4G coverage in 75 markets, Verizon only has 4G service in 38 markets, with 102 more coming online by the end of the year. So pick the phone with the most coverage and good backup network for your needs.