Definition

4G (fourth-generation wireless)

4G is the short name for fourth-generation wireless, the stage of broadband mobile communications that will supercede the third generation (3G ).

Carriers that use orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) instead of time division multiple access (TDMA) or code division multiple access (CDMA) are increasingly marketing their services as being 4G, even when their data speeds are not as fast as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) specifies. According to the ITU, a 4G network requires a mobile device to be able to exchange data at 100 Mbit/sec. A 3G network, on the other hand, can offer data speeds as slow as 3.84 Mbit/sec.

From the consumer's point of view, 4G is more a marketing term than a technical specification, but carriers feel justified in using the 4G label because it lets the consumer know that he can expect significantly faster data speeds. 

Although carriers still differ about whether to build 4G data networks using Long Term Evolution (LTE) or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access WiMAX, all carriers seem to agree that OFDM is one of the chief indicators that a service can be legitimately marketed as being 4G.  OFDM is a type of digital modulation in which a signal is split into several narrowband channels at different frequencies. This is more efficient than TDMA, which divides channels into time slots and has multiple users take turns transmitting bursts or CDMA, which simultaneously transmits multiple signals on the same channel. 

When fully implemented, 4G is expected to enable pervasive computing, in which simultaneous connections to multiple high-speed networks will provide seamless handoffs throughout a geographical area. Coverage enhancement technologies such as femtocell and picocell are being developed to address the needs of mobile users in homes, public buildings and offices, which will free up network resources for mobile users who are roaming or who are in more remote service areas.

See also: Fast Guide to Mobile Telephony Protocols and Standards

 

Contributor(s): Subhash Nigam and Peter Siljerud
This was last updated in December 2010
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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