4G technology is the fourth generation cellular network technology that succeeds 3G technology and precedes 5G technology. The International Telecommunication Union or IMT, through the IMT Advanced, has defined the fourth-generation standard as having data transmission speeds that are near fiber-based wired broadband services, particular an average speed of 100 Mbps to 1000 Mbps and an upload speed of around 500 Mbps
Pros: Advantages of 4G Technology
The obvious advantage of 4G technology centers on improvements in network performance, particularly when compared to 3G technology. Based on the ITU specifications, fourth-generation networks should be 10 times faster than third-generation networks. More specifically, the real-world average speed of existing 4G networks is between 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps compared to the 500 kbps to 10 Mbps average speed of 3G networks.
Furthermore, connecting to fourth-generation networks should give users a bandwidth of around 200 Mbps and network latency of 20 to 30 milliseconds compared to the 2 Mbps bandwidth and 100 to 500 milliseconds latency of third-generation technology. These performance improvements come from newer frequency allocations, utilization of higher frequencies, and integration of other wireless communication technologies such as massive MIMO and orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing or OFDM.
Of course, although fifth-generation networks have become increasingly prominent in key urban areas around the world since 2019 and further in 2020, fourth-generation networks remain an important component of wireless telecommunication infrastructure. 4G networks are currently more accessible than 5G due to the existence of established network infrastructure, as well as the prominence of 4G-capable end-user devices in the market.
The following are the specific benefits and applications of fourth-generation cellular network technology:
• Compared to 3G, a specific advantage of 4G is that it has powered the use of wireless high-data applications to include multimedia consumption such as video and audio streaming, video gaming, and video conferencing using mobile devices, as well as cloud computing applications
• Specific examples include streaming of standard to high definition videos from services such as Netflix, use of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet, and cloud-based video gaming services such as Google Stadia and Apple Arcade
• The network performance gains also enable wireless home broadband services that could match entry-level and mid-range wired broadband Internet services based on fiber optics, particularly under optimal conditions
• Cost of deployment is considerably lower than 5G implementation because of established practices, availability of material requirements from the supply chain, and presence of market or end-users due to the prevalence of enabled end-user devices
• 4G-capable devices are not only prevalent in the market but are more affordable than 5G devices, thereby allowing more people to access and connect to, as well as take advantage of fourth-generation networks
• Furthermore, when compared to mmWave 5G networks, so-called candidate 4G systems such as Long-Term Evolution or LTE and LTE Advanced have an accessibility advantage due to having a more expansive network coverage and longer range
Cons: Disadvantages of 4G Technology
Note that 4G is a specification that defines minimum requirements, what technologies to utilize and integrate, the frequency allocation, and what other wireless communication standards to use. Although established in 2008 through the IMT Advanced, network service providers had a hard time meeting the specification due to constraints in resources and technical capabilities. They could not simply deploy fourth-generation network capabilities.
The workaround was to build on the existing 3G technology. The result was the introduction of Long-Term Evolution or LTE. However, LTE is a pre-4G technology and not a true 4G because it does not adhere to the standards and requirements outlined in IMT Advanced. Others labeled LTE as a 3.95G technology because it surpasses 3G but falls short of 4G expectations.
Network operators worked on improving cellular network technology. Thus, in 2009, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project or 3GPP submitted LTE Advanced as a 4G candidate. The 3GPP standardized further LTE Advanced in 2012 following 3GPP Release. The technology is a close contender to a true 4G because it has a potential download speed of more than 1000 Mbps upload speeds of 500 Mbps.
The ITU allowed network service providers and manufacturers to use the term “4G LTE” and “4G LTE Advanced” to market their services and products. However, they are prohibited from using the “4G” label alone since from a technical standpoint, there is a considerable difference between Long-Term Evolution and fourth-generation technologies.
Below are the specific drawbacks and limitations of fourth-generation cellular network technology:
• One of the problems with 4G is that there is no widely accepted definition of what it is, despite the International Telecommunication Union defining the standard through the release of IMT Advanced in 2008
• LTE is pre-4G while LTE Advanced is only a close candidate but they have been considered part of the entire fourth-generation systems although they are not true fourth-generation technology, thus creating variances in network performance
• True 4G is power-hungry and the battery technology around 2008 to 2015 lagged when compared to the current gains in battery performance, and as such, manufacturers of end-use devices have decided to use LTE-based hardware
• Based on real-world performance, LTE achieves an average download speed of around 20 Mbps under optimal conditions but in heavy-traffic scenarios, the average speed is only between 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps
• 3G networks are still prominent in rural areas around the world because they are more cost-effective, especially in developing countries, thus making third-generation technology more accessible to people living in these areas
• When compared to 5G technology, another notable disadvantage of 4G is that it not optimal for higher-data applications, specifically in the area of autonomous vehicle, smart systems or massive Internet of Things, and high-resolution video streaming
• LTE and LTE Advanced might have wider network coverage and longer reach than mmWave 5G but Sub-6 5G is a better alternative because apart from having a wider network coverage and longer reach, it has notable network performance gains
• It is also important to note that 5G is inherently better because it uses electromagnetic radiation with higher frequencies or in other words, it uses new spectrum resources to provide faster, more reliable, and less congested wireless connectivity.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Akyildiz, I. F., Gutierrez-Estevez, D. M., and Reyes, E. C. 2010. The Evolution to 4G Cellular Systems: LTE-Advanced. Physical Communication. 3(4): 217-244. DOI: 1016/j.phycom.2010.08.001
- Franklin, J. V., and Paramasivam, K.2013. 3GPP: LTE-An Innovative Technology Towards 4G Wireless Networks. European Scientific Journal. 9(21). DOI: 19044/esj.2013.v9n21p%p
- Saxena, N., Sengupta, S., Wong, K.-K., and Roy, A. 2013. “Special Issue on Advances in 4G Wireless and Beyond.” EURASIP Journal on Wireless Communications and Networking. 2013(1). DOI: 1186/1687-1499-2013-157