Inside 4G cell service

Sep 222010
Authors: Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer

Over the past year, there’s been a lot of talk about so-called 4G cell service hitting the airwaves. Sprint was advertising it before they even had it, Verizon has been dropping hints more than the Rams drop passes and AT&T –– well, AT&T has the iPhone, so they’ve been kinda lazy.

From the commercials alone, one can gather that this fabled 4G means faster phones. It doesn’t mean faster conversations for those with only voice service, so this one goes out to all you smartphone owners or prospective buyers out there.

So what is this mythical creature termed 4G? An answer to all of life’s problems? Is it a beautiful unicorn that shoots the Internet out of its horn? A phone that makes you tasty sammitches and brings you beer?

It turns out the actual definition of a 4G, or fourth generation network is a little hazy, but the ever knowledgeable folks at the International Telecommunication Union –– Radiocommunication Sector or ITU-R for short –– have spent countless hours with their heads to the grindstone to agree upon something of a definition. The world trusts them because they have a long name and they are from Switzerland.

Among other things, a 4G network must be capable of delivering Internet speeds of up to 100 megabytes a second when you’re traveling around in your car, for instance, and 1 gigabyte a second when you’re standing motionless underneath the cell tower.

We all know advertised speeds rarely equate to actual speeds, but even at one quarter of the 100 Mbit/s connection speed, our phones would have a better connection than Comcast gives us at our house. That’s a true story.

The next question is, who actually offers 4G? Drum roll please … technically, no one. Under the specifications set by our ITU-R friends from Geneva, no cell service provider can currently match the speeds required to call their networks true 4G. That having been said, 4G simply means fourth generation, so there’s really no false advertising afoot, merely clever marketing or misleading marketing depending on your stance.

Nomenclature aside, there’s currently only one cell phone provider out there that actually offers anything close to 4G connectivity (a mere 10 Mbit/s), and that’s Sprint. As of this writing, they currently only have coverage in a few cities spread across 22 states, and only two phones that can even take advantage of the 4G network: the HTC Evo and Samsung Epic.

Verizon is close on its tail. Most of the testing has been completed and they’re currently starting to get equipment set up and ready to go. They say they’ll be offering LTE (4G-ish) service by the end of this year.

Those silly kids over at AT&T seem to be a little behind the curve. It looks to us as if they’re resting their feet up on that giant iPhone contract.

They estimate that they’ll have their own LTE network up and running by 2011, which translates to beginning of 2012 if we’re lucky.

Columnists Glen Pfeiffer and Ryan Gibbons advise you to hide yo kids, hide yo wife and if you see anything suspicious you should contact us at

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