You, me and 4G: the future is in our hands

Online speed limits are about to increase, but what does it mean for users? motionblur

Ever tried to stream a movie on your phone and given up because of an unreliable connection or slow data speeds? Well, with 4G networking for mobile phones predicted to be in place by the end of this year, the days of slow mobile internet could be behind us.

In order to understand why 4G is such a significant step forward, it’s important to look back at the current generation, creatively known as “3G”.

The older generation

The first Australian 3G mobile network was launched by Hutchison Telecoms Australia back in 2003 and it offered a significant improvement on existing mobile telecommunications standards.

It considerably enhanced the quality of broadband wireless voice, video and data transmission services and gave the 3G user the ability to simultaneously use voice and data services and, for the first time, use a built-in browser to surf the internet.

3G provided substantially more upload and download capacity – bandwidth and speed – for using the internet, viewing videos and sending text messages that included images.

But the improvements included in the 3G standards did not satisfy technology enthusiasts and the digital signal processing (DSP) techniques at the time were not nearly as advanced as they are today.

Towards 4G

4G technology has been developed to advance the specifications pioneered in 3G and deploy networks to allow faster and more efficient:

  • mobile broadband access
  • multimedia messaging services
  • video chat
  • mobile TV
  • internet-based HDTV

It is also anticipated that digital video broadcasting systems – such as DVB-T2 and DVB3DTV – will be able to interact with 4G networks.

4G is tailored to a broad spectrum of users – from the ordinary voice-only user to the highly-mobile user who surfs the net for movies, uses social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, all while their mobile searches for the latest real estate sales.

Of course, each user will have to tailor their needs depending on what services are required and what is being offered by the various service providers.

Regardless of a mobile user’s individual needs, though, significant increases in speed will be noticeable to all.

According to the the body responsible for worldwide telecommunications standards – the International Telecommunication Union’s Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) – 4G systems will be able to achieve nominal data rates of 100 megabits per second – up to 30 times faster than existing 3G technology.

While speeds of 100 megabits per second can be expected when a client is in high-speed motion – such as in a car or train – even higher rates of one gigabit per second are possible when a user is close (within 400 metres) to the serving base station.

In addition to facilitating higher transfer speeds, 4G will allow a user’s phone to “handoff” its connection from one base station to another smoothly, allowing for the uninterrupted use of voice, internet access, gaming and streaming video as the user moves around.

Future standards

4G technology encompasses two standards for transmitting “packet-switched” data:

Both LTE and Mobile WiMAX promise unprecedented download speeds that were never possible in 3G cellular networks.

In Australia, Telstra has leapfrogged its competition by carrying out live testing of LTE and achieving speeds of 100 megabits and above.

Optus and Vodafone have since followed suit in their testing, hoping to achieve the speeds specified by the 4G standards.

So when will 4G-enabled phones and services be available to everyday users such as you and I? Well, if early indications by Telstra are any indication it’ll be before the end of the year.

Until then, it’s probably worth connecting to your local WiFi before streaming that amazing HD video.