Sorting Out 4G Differences

weBoost | August 9, 2012

According to ABI Research, 2012 is poised to be the year of 4G. That being said, we wanted to take some time to talk about some of the differences in the three major 4G standards in the US: LTE, HSPA+ and WiMAX. Differences range from the frequency bands the protocols operate on to the carriers that use the standards to different data speeds. We’ll start with LTE as it has garnered a lot of attention recently. At this point AT&T and Verizon are the only major carriers that have LTE. Sprint will be offering LTE along with WiMAX soon (to add more 4G confusion). What sets LTE apart from the other two major 4G standards? Speed…lots of speed. ABI Research analyst Phil Solis says that when Apple releases an LTE-capable version of the iPhone it will cement LTE as the standard in the US.

Next up, HSPA+. Both T-Mobile and AT&T offer this 4G option (yep, AT&T has both LTE and HSPA+ to add even more to the 4G confusion). It touts speeds that are three times faster than 3G. Steve Kovach of Business Insider says that this is generally true. HSPA+ is widespread in other areas of the world as well, such as Canada, Europe, etc. LTE Disclaimer for AT&T customers: if you are thinking of upgrading to a 4G mobile device to take advantage of blazing LTE speed check the coverage map to see if you are in an LTE market. A large part of AT&T’s “4G” network runs on the HSPA+ standard…for now.

We’ll end with WiMAX, Sprint’s 4G network uses this standard. It isn’t the fastest 4G but it’s noticeably faster than existing 3G networks. WiMAX touts its speeds to be ten times faster than the speed of 3G but Kovach says that in his experience this is an exaggeration. He does mention that it is much faster than 3G.

Bottom line: for 4G in the US you’ve got three choices. HSPA+ and WiMAX are faster than 3G, LTE is much faster than 3G and noticeably faster than the other two 4G standards. Now that we’ve sorted out a few 4G differences let’s move at the speed of technology. Bring it on, 5G!

In this post we’ve touched on some high-level differences in 4G standards. Stay tuned to the Wilson blog; we’ll be discussing deeper, more technical 4G differences such as the different bands and frequencies each standard operates on in future posts.