3G vs 4G vs LTE vs WiMax - Wireless Internet Service
Realistically, the latest generation of portable electronics such as tablet PCs, net books and other Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices (e.g. eBook readers) demand an on-the-go, reliable wireless broadband connection. Without wireless access to the web, these best-selling electronics are rather limited in their overall capability and value at the end of the day. As a result of the rapid proliferation of portable, internet-capable devices in the US market, wireless broadband service providers battle aggressively amongst each other, each offering faster web access and expanded coverage. Today consumers can choose between several wireless internet providers over standard DSL or cable internet access.
Wireless internet technology has evolved in terms of generations of wireless network capacity over the last 10 years. 3G “third generation” networks ushered in a new era in mobile broadband technology. Although 4G, LTE and WiMax generally represent newer (i.e. faster) web access, 3G wireless internet set the standard for today's mobile broadband products.
Prior to the introduction of 3G networks, wireless internet access was virtually non-existent outside of a handful of expensive satellite broadband providers. Simply put, 3G represents the new standard for Wireless Wide Area Networks (WWANs). Theoretically, 3G networks are capable of download speeds between 400 kilobits per second and 1,500 kilobits per second, approximately half as fast as traditional DSL or cable internet service; however, transfer rates can vary widely depending on geographic region, network congestion or even inclement weather.
3G's strength lies in a virtually nationwide coverage area since several major wireless broadband providers offer basic 3G wireless internet packages. AT&T and Verizon lead the market for 3G broadband service over competitors such as Sprint and T-mobile, yet the latter companies continue to rapidly gain ground on the former. Pre-paid 3G internet access is an attractive option for consumers who sparingly use the internet on-the-go, but users who regularly stream video or multi-task will need a faster wireless network than 3G.
4G represents the next step in the evolution of wireless internet technology. In fact, the 4G wireless broadband standard is theoretically capable of data transfer speeds several times faster than the widely used “old” 3G standard. Basically, 4G wireless networks operate within an expanded frequency spectrum of 2-8 GHz compared to 3G's thinner band. This expanded capability allows 4G networks to achieve data transfer rates as many as 10 times faster than 3G networks, theoretically speaking. The real world output of 4G wireless networks hinges on the same variables as 3G networks, primarily network congestion in densely populated regions.
Since 4G represents the newest wireless internet standard, competition among the major wireless providers continues to grow more contentious. But overall, according to consumer reviews as well as technical figures, Verizon's 4G network provides the largest coverage area along with scalable packages that reach as high as a 10 GB allowance. On the other hand, the difference between Verizon and the other major carriers' 4G networks is slight at best.
As 3G broadband evolved into 4G wireless networks, Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless internet has recently begun to supplant developing 4G as the hottest mobile broadband technology. The wireless companies themselves point out that LTE broadband is in actuality very much related to 4G technologies. From a different point of view, LTE wireless technology can be explained as a general 4G network with a more versatile spectrum, or a semi-4G standard.
As recently as the fall of 2011, major wireless carriers Verizon, Sprint and AT&T announced the release of their upgraded LTE wireless internet networks. From a consumer's perspective, AT&T's pricing and technical specifications still trump the competition, yet Verizon and Sprint together boast larger coverage at an economical price. The prevailing issue of the day with LTE-upgraded networks circles around the use of 4G purely as a marketing term, not necessarily a more powerful wireless internet network. For example, AT&T's upgraded HPSA+ 3G network is capable of transferring data as fast as a modest 4G LTE signal from Verizon. The difference lies in the real world output of the internet service independent of the brand 4G or LTE.
WiMax represents an alternative wireless broadband technology. Expanded from the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard (the “usual” Wi-Fi protocol), WiMax has a theoretical data transfer rate of over 70 Megabits per second. Like LTE 4G, WiMax falls into the category of “4G” marketing, with one important difference: city-wide coverage. Empirically speaking, WiMax signal simply extends further than other 4G wireless networks, which makes WiMax the only viable option for isolated, rural broadband customers.
Based on data transfer speed alone, WiMax broadband service trumps both DSL and cable internet. The con of 4G WiMax is that it's only available from a few select mobile broadband providers. Indeed, even Sprint has recently taken a step away from the WiMax protocol in order to stay competitive with Verizon and AT&T, yet other wireless internet providers such as Clear and Intel continue to offer low-cost WiMax broadband. Still, the future of WiMax networks is very much in doubt when compared to 4G LTE broadband.
When compared side by side, wireless broadband providers attract consumers with promises of a faster, more reliable internet experience. From a consumer's perspective, purchasing the best wireless internet service depends largely upon the amount of data accumulated in any given month. Casual internet users would do well to consider bargain packages, but those who intend to stream, download and upload large media files ought to opt for a larger data package with capped overage charges.
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