The International Telecommunication Union released the IMT Advanced Standard in 2008 that defined the fourth-generation or 4G cellular network technology. Fundamentally, 4G is a specification that outlines the minimum requirements, what kind of technologies to use, the needed frequency allocation, and all other standards that would comprise the successor to the third-generation standard of cellular network technology.
On the other hand, Long-Term Evolution or LTE is another standard based on GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA technologies first proposed in Japan in 2004, and further developed and defined by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project or 3GPP.
The ITU allowed manufacturers and network operators to market LTE as part of the entire 4G system starting in 2012 while requiring the use of “4G LTE” as a proper nomenclature for marketing services and products equipped with Long-Term Evolution technology. However, from a technical standpoint, there are considerable differences between 4G and LTE.
4G versus LTE: Understanding the Difference Between True Fourth-Generation Technology and Long-Term Evolution Technology
Remember that the 4G specification was introduced in 2008. Hence, based on the ITU requirement, if network operators want to call their services “fourth-generation,” they have to follow specified technological requirements and all other standards, while also meeting the minimum data transmission speed requirements.
The IMT Advanced Standard noted that 4G networks should provide a minimum download speed of 100 Mbits per second that should peak at 1000 Mbits, as well as an upload speed of 500 Mbits per second. However, network operators struggled to meet these requirements within an immediate time frame because of resource and technical constraints.
Nevertheless, as a workaround, several operators decided to build on existing 3G technologies such as GSM, EDGE, UMTS, and HSPA to push their capabilities to transmit data and improve their wireless communication networks. The resulting collective effort was the standardization and promotion of Long-Term Evolution or LTE technology.
LTE is fundamentally a pre-4G technology. Other experts in the field describe LTE as a 3.95G technology because it surpasses 3G technology in terms of network performance. However, it still does not meet the technical criteria of a true fourth-generation cellular network as described and required in IMT Advanced Standard.
However, 3GPP submitted LTE Advanced to ITU-T in 2009 as a candidate fourth-generation technology and it was standardized further in 2012 following 3GPP Release 10. It has become a closer contender to a true fourth-generation technology because of its potential download speed of more than 1000 Mbits per second and upload speeds of 500 Mbits per second.
The following is a rundown of the difference between fourth-generation cellular network technology and Long-Term Evolution technology:
• The required network performance of 4G as defined by ITU should be near fiber-based wired broadband speeds with a download speed of 1000 Mbps or more and upload speeds of 500 Mbps. The earlier iterations to LTE struggled to achieve download speeds of more than 5 to 10 Mbps in real-world settings.
• 4G also required the utilization of new wireless communication technologies, as well as the identification of new frequencies and radio standards. On the other hand, LTE builds on the existing technologies used in 3G networks to include GSM, EDGE, UMTS, and HSPA to improve network capacity and performance.
• Improvements in LTE technology resulted in considerable improvements in data transmission speeds. Under optimal conditions, several LTE networks have demonstrated download speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps and upload speeds of 25 to 50 Mbps. However, these numbers are still far from the specified performance of 4G.
• LTE Advanced later emerged as a close candidate to fourth-generation network technology. Note that its technical underpinnings are considerably different from the specified technical requirements needed for deploying 4G networks. However, it achieved speeds closely matching the fourth-generation specifications.
• The planned frequency allocation for 4G is within 1 GHz, as well as within the ranges of the sub-3 GHz and sub-6 GHz frequency specifications. LTE uses the existing frequency bands of 3G, as well as the frequencies within the sub-3 GHz specification. LTE Advanced runs within the same sub-3 GHz specification.
• In summary, 4G LTE is technically not a true fourth-generation cellular network technology. Operators and manufacturers are not allowed to use “4G” alone in their branding. However, they can use the term “4G LTE” in their marketing communication to remain true to the specifications outlined in IMT Advanced Standard.
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